1 February 2000
MPs demand freedom for dairy sector
By Isabel Davies
A CROSS-PARTY committee of MPs has told the government to stop harassing dairy farmers and instead give producers more commercial freedom.
Milk co-operatives must be allowed to compete in the market place, says a report by the Select Committee on Agriculture published on Tuesday (1 February).
Dairy farmers needs to escape from the structures that have stultified innovation and development, recommends the document on UK milk marketing.
The contradiction between the treatment of Milk Marque and the governments encouragement of producer co-operatives must be resolved, it adds.
Milk Marque announced it was breaking up last year after a Competition Commission inquiry accused it of artificially boosting the milk price to farmers.
But the report states: “The presumption must be that there will be no further investigations by the competition authorities into the dairy sector for many years.
“This is not just a challenge to the politicians and regulators, but also to the industry itself to refrain from seeking intervention.”
Agriculture minister Nick Brown has claimed there was a bright future for dairy farmers. But the MPs have warned the future for some dairy farmers is bleak.
“There is without a doubt a crisis in dairy farming and sadly, there are likely to be more casualties before any recovery is felt.”
The report claims restructuring of the dairy industry could have a significant negative impact on the economy of a number of farming areas.
It recommends that the government should identify areas at risk and target them for help under rural development measures and environmental initiatives.
The MPs believe that small farms could be given government assistance to help them pay the cost of milk collection and dairy hygiene inspections.
On the issue of adding value to milk, the MPs conclude it would be better to look at branding rather than a label linked to quality assurance and a British logo.
They recommend that the government encourages a marketing strategy for milk based on small farm milk rather than marketing milk as a bulk commodity.