Farmers for Action (FFA) is calling on retailers to show clear country of origin labelling on all own-brand cheese to avoid “blatant” misleading of consumers.
FFA chairman David Handley said a large amount of cheap imported cheese being sold under supermarkets’ own brands was not matching the standards required by British dairy farmers.
Supermarkets were “sucking in” cheese from all over the world, but the consumer has no knowledge of its origin or its production methods, he added.
And he accused some major UK supermarkets of using cheap imports of cheese as a “tool to drive down British milk prices”.
“The cheese market is in disarray and we have an awful lot of concerns about labelling standards,” said Mr Handley.
“British dairy farmers are expected to produce quality cheese, with low cell count levels, farm assured to a very high standard.
“Yet month after month, cheese producers are losing contracts to cheese coming in from the Republic of Ireland, Australia and parts of the UK that is not produced to the same standards.”
Mr Handley called on the major retailers to address the issue as a “matter of urgency”. Farmers were feeling angry and were not ruling out demonstrations, he said.
The protests could come in two forms – direct protests outside retailers’ stores, or, as a last resort, protests at distribution centres.
“If FFA do not see a change in this procedure by the end of March we may well have to visit retailers to convince them otherwise,” said Mr Handley.
Following the SOS Dairy protests last summer, milk processors increased their farmgate milk prices across the board.
But most cheese milk producers were currently receiving on average 27-28p/litre for their milk, which was still 3-4p/litre below the costs of production, Mr Handley said.
“This is not about us moaning about prices – we just don’t want to be uncompetitive,” he explained.
“Cheese must be labelled properly to allow the consumer to make informed buying choices.
“Let’s not fall into the trap that the meat industry fell into with the horsemeat scandal. Let’s have it all above board.”
Country of origin labelling of cheese will be high on the agenda at the next Dairy Coalition meeting, scheduled for next Wednesday (20 March).
Last October, the NFU launched a campaign for clearer food labelling following reports that retailers had been flouting DEFRA’s voluntary code on country of origin labelling on some imported cheese and dairy products.
The “Flag It” campaign was launched after research showed that 83% of shoppers thought country of origin labelling on milk in dairy products should be clearer.