MAJOR FOOD retailers are being asked whether they would be prepared to sell “fair deal” branded milk.

Mick Bates, a Welsh Assembly member who also farms in Powys, has written to supermarket bosses to gauge support for the idea.

He said he was so inspired by Oxfam‘s efforts to get a better deal for third world primary food producers that he would like to do the same for hard pressed Welsh dairy farmers.

“They are being screwed by processors and retailers in the same way as cocoa producers are, which the 18p/litre gap between farmgate and shelf prices clearly shows,” claimed Mr Bates.

“I have always supported the principle of fair trade, and recognise that Welsh farmers, and indeed British dairy farmers, could benefit from such a scheme.

“The idea would be to offer consumers the option of buying cartons of milk labelled to show that the farmer who produced it received a fair return for the work involved.”

While Mr Bates acknowledged that vested commercial interests would oppose the idea, he said that first minister Rhodri Morgan had agreed that it should be looked into.

Also, he had not dismissed a second proposal from Mr Bates that would provide a boost for the dairy industry by extending the existing Welsh free school milk scheme for key stage 1 pupils to children aged seven to 11.

“Dairy farmers are currently placed in a wholly unacceptable situation,” Mr Bates said. 

“I want to see far greater market place transparency to ensure that farmers and the public get an honest deal.”

Alan Morris of the Farmers Union of Wales welcomed the fair trade initiative as another possible answer to the milk industry crisis.

“Like the suggestion that there should be a milk ombudsman, the fair trade idea needs a lot of investigation before we will know whether it is workable,” said Mr Morris.

“We are ready to work alongside anyone who has the welfare and sustainability of the Welsh dairy industry at heart.”