The government has been urged to back Britain’s dairy farmers by supporting plans to introduce compulsory dairy contracts across Europe.
The NFU said EU contract proposals would see dairy farmers offered a fairer price and help stop producers leaving the industry.
The union was joined by 10 north-east dairy farmers who visited MPs in Westminster on Tuesday (21 June) to explain the difficulties the industry faces and discuss ways to improve milk prices.
The visit came ahead of a vote by MEPs on the EU agriculture committee on a report that calls for compulsory contracts and agreed prices for farmers.
Following the vote next week (27 June), the proposals will be voted on by all MEPs in the autumn.
Rob Newbery, NFU chief dairy adviser, said the majority of UK contracts exploited dairy farmers and did not help them cover rising input costs.
“It should be part of the minimum requirement on contracts that there’s a mechanism to set prices,” he said.
“But the European package isn’t the be-all and end-all and there’s still an opportunity to address this issue voluntarily.
“We want to think DEFRA is pushing the industry and processors to find voluntary solutions. Hopefully by the time the dairy package is put in place, then the UK will already be compliant with the rules on a voluntary basis.”
Conservative MP Julian Smith, who hosted the meeting, said there was genuine concern for the future of the UK’s dairy industry among the government.
But he said DEFRA and the industry should be working towards transparency in the market and encouraging retailers and processors to behave more fairly rather than introducing compulsory contracts.
“The contract is meant to be for European countries that don’t have them, but we have contracts in the UK. That motivation is slightly different to how the NFU wants it to be applied here, but it is focusing people’s minds on the problems dairy farmers face.”
A DEFRA spokeswoman said: “The UK has one of the most competitive dairy industries in the world and it will continue to have a strong future if it competes efficiently and effectively in the global market.
“The UK is content with the EU proposal to make any compulsory contract contain details of price, volume and duration, as long as the specifics can be freely negotiated between parties.
“We will be considering whether this model will benefit UK farmers and will be consulting with the dairy industry when the proposals are finalised.”