Dairy UK and NFU

A Q & A from the NFU

What is Dairy UK?
Dairy UK is an organisation that brings together different components of the dairy industry. Although its members are fundamentally milk processors and its primary focus has been to deal with issues that impact on the milk processing sector, Dairy UK has sought to take account of the views of all parts of the industry including farmers.

When was Dairy UK formed?
Dairy UK was formed in October 2004. This followed intense negotiations between representatives of private dairy companies and milk co-operatives to create a new organisation to replace DIAL (representing private dairies and bottled milk buyers) and the Federation of Milk Groups (representing milk co-ops).

Who are its members?
Dairy UK’s members comprise companies that purchase, process and market raw milk. This includes milk co-operatives, processors and bottled milk buyers and wholesalers. The NFU and the other farming unions are not members of Dairy UK. However we have participated closely in its activities in order to provide some representation for farming interests.

The NFU also created and managed a ‘farmers forum’ which brought together farmer representatives of the main UK milk co-ops, direct selling groups and farming lobbies. This discussed issues of common concern, inputted into Dairy UK’s activities and nominated two farming representatives to sit on the Board of Dairy UK, including the Chairman of the Forum. The current appointees are Gwyn Jones (NFU Dairy Board Chairman and chair of the farmers forum) and Roger Evans (Board director of First Milk).

What is the role of Chairman of Dairy UK?
The job of the Chairman of Dairy UK goes beyond chairing the Board meetings. It is his role to provide overall direction to Dairy UK, represent the organisation on industry forums, and take a leading role in representing Dairy UK political. Following the appointment of Sir Don Curry as interim Chairman, David Curry MP was appointed as the first full chairman of the organisation in May 2005. From the outset, it was decided that Dairy UK’s best interests would be served by appointing a Chairman who was independent of the different components of the dairy industry and who could give the organisation and the industry political profile and credibility.

Why have Dairy UK’s members decided to oust David Curry?
It is for Dairy UK’s members to justify their reasons for ousting David Curry, however, regardless, the NFU thinks that the decision not to have an independent Chairman is fundamentally wrong. The dairy industry will, regrettably, be politically much weaker because of this move. This in turn demonstrates remarkable political naivety on the part of Dairy UK’s processing members.

Has Dairy UK been a success?
Despite not achieving popularity amongst ordinary farmers, it would be very unreasonable to describe Dairy UK as a failure. Indeed the organisation has led the debate on behalf of the industry on important issues such as nutrient profiling and labelling. It has acted firmly on behalf of milk processors on other issues such as climate change levy agreements, animal by-product rules and effluent disposal. It has also leant support to the UK NFUs in their lobbying efforts on behalf of dairy farmers on issues such as the proposed NVZ action programmes across the UK. We stress that our decision to walk away from Dairy UK is not a reflection of our views on how the organisation is functioning.

Where Dairy UK has struggled to address some of the real commercial problems of the British dairy industry ranging from the inadequacies of milk contracts to the inefficiency in milk manufacturing. These issues have been highlighted and pursued vigorously by the NFU following the publication of our Vision for the Dairy Industry in 2005.

What is the NFU’s involvement in Dairy UK?
The NFU is not a member of Dairy UK. However senior executives of the NFU were heavily involved in the drawing up of Dairy UK in 2004 and since its inception, the Chairman of the NFU’s Dairy Board, Gwyn Jones, has sat on the Board of Dairy UK in order to represent farming interests. In addition, NFU staff have participated in and advised Dairy UK committees on a wide range of farming and non-farming issues.

Why has the NFU walked out of Dairy UK?
Our decision to terminate our involvement with Dairy UK is not one that has been taken lightly and it is with tremendous sorrow that we announce our departure. We believe very strongly that a founding principle of Dairy UK was to unite the dairy industry. As part of this principle, it was agreed by participants at the outset that the organisation should appoint an independent Chairman. In removing David Curry without consultation with the farming representatives on the Board of Dairy UK, the NFU feels that it is untenable for it to remain what is an organisation of milk processors. There is no way that our farming members could justify us remaining part of the organisation such as it has become.

Can Dairy UK claim to represent dairy farmers?
Until now, Dairy UK could justifiably claim to be uniting the views of the UK dairy industry including farmers on a large number issues. Given that neither farmers nor their representative organisations are members of Dairy UK, the organisation has never directly represented the views of farmers. Any claim that the organisation now makes to take account of the views of farmers will be dismissed by the appointment of a processor representative as Chairman.

Some executives in the milk co-operatives lay claim to representing the interests of farmers. Insofar as they represent their commercial interests, as investors in and members of milk co-operatives, the NFU would agree. However to suggest that milk co-operatives can represent the political interests of dairy farmers does not stand up to scrutiny, especially in the light of this decision.

What does this mean for the NFU’s relations with milk processors?
The NFU wishes to stress that this decision in no way affects the organisation’s ongoing dialogue with milk processors. We have historical and constructive relationships with all UK milk processors and wish these to remain in order to further the interests of ordinary dairy farmers.

Would the NFU reconsider its decision?
Our decision is not a vote of no-confidence in Dairy UK, it is a decision of principle based on the removal of an independent Chairman. Should the members of Dairy UK reconsider this decision, then the NFU would reconsider its involvement in the organisation.

Is the NFU weakening the position of dairy farmers by pulling out of Dairy UK?
No, the NFU is the leading representative for dairy farmers in England and Wales and the NFU will continue to voice the views and opinions of its dairy farming members to government and to the rest of the dairy supply chain. We will seek to continue our good working relationships with Dairy UK staff and its processing members, however viewed by our members, it would be untenable for the NFU to remain part of an organisation that purely represents milk proces