SCOTTISH DAIRY farmers have highlighted the need for fair trade in the milk sector in meetings with politicians in London and Edinburgh.

On Wednesday (Nov 10), two delegations of NFU Scotland milk producers travelled to the Scottish Parliament and Westminster to highlight the lack of power they have compared with processors and retailers.

The politicians were told that if farmers are to receive a fairer share of the margin on milk and dairy products, the current retailer code of conduct must be strengthened.

The union maintains that the code, because it is voluntary, has been totally ineffective.

This is mainly because of the fear amongst suppliers that they will be de-listed if they complain publicly about prices.

Instead, the union insists, there must be an independent body appointed to enforce the code. The code should also be extended to cover the whole supply chain.

“Slotting fees”, the charges suppliers face to buy shelf space in supermarkets, should be banned, the union says.

And it also wants to see any promotional initiatives, such as “3 for the price of 2”, become part of a negotiated contract between retailer and supplier.

At the moment, says the union, the suppliers are left to pick up the cost of such initiatives.

“Dairy farmers are not looking for special favours or free hand-outs, just fair trade,” union president John Kinnaird told politicians in Edinburgh.

“Farmers are paying the penalty of the imbalance in negotiating strength in the food supply chain and it is costing jobs and communities,” he said.

Nearly 700 dairy farmers have left the industry in the past five years.

“Despite an average retail price of 50p/litre for milk, farmers are still being paid only around 17p, which is not enough for the majority to break even,” said Mr Kinnaird.

“We need action to address this.”

Speaking in London, union vice president Bob Howat told MPs that the Office of Fair Trading had highlighted that the fear of being de-listed by supermarkets was preventing suppliers from using the current code of practice as a way to ensure fair trade.

“Therefore we must have somebody to go out and fight for fair play. To neglect this massive problem is to neglect rural areas, family businesses and consumers,” he said.