The Food Ethics Council has coordinated this joint letter to Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey, calling on Defra to publish a robust, thorough and properly enforced Dairy Code of Conduct. The letter was sent on Tuesday 4th April 2023. 

Dear Secretary of State, 

We are writing as a group representing farming, food and nature to stress the need for a Dairy Code of Conduct that will bring about meaningful change within the dairy sector across the UK. As a wide range of stakeholders calling for this change, we urge you to publish a robust, thorough, and properly enforced UK Code – produced in collaboration with devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – as soon as possible. 

We were pleased when ministers announced plans for a fairer dairy supply chain back in February 2021, with the promise of a new statutory Code of Conduct for the dairy sector. However, more than two years later, the Code has still not materialised. 

While some farmer-processor relationships do work well, imbalances of power still exist within the dairy supply chain and can put immense pressure on farmers. We have heard first-hand stories of abusive practices and unfair clauses in contracts, which are unacceptable and must be stamped out. It is increasingly vital that we listen to and support our local farmers – the ‘heart of our rural economy’ – to thrive. Unfairness within the supply chain not only impacts farmers’ wellbeing, but also limits the abilities of farmers and others to take necessary steps toward building a resilient, more climate and nature friendly sector.  

The Code is a vital opportunity to build more positive relationships, based on fairness, transparency, cooperation and sustainability, right across the dairy value chain. This includes citizens – everyone that chooses to consume dairy should have access to good quality dairy that has been fairly produced. 

As the then Minister said back in 2021, the new statutory Code of Conduct will seek to “provide a guiding framework, establishing minimum standards but also providing businesses with the flexibility to adapt contracts to their individual circumstances.” With skyrocketing input costs putting dairy producers under even greater pressure than before, this Code is urgently needed, as is having the right mechanism for enforcement, with appropriate ‘teeth’. 

We acknowledge that there have been many challenges and upheavals in the past two years, including the Ukraine conflict, cost of living challenges, the pandemic and the ongoing adjustments necessary following our exit from the EU. We also recognise that such a code requires proper consultation with affected parties and that the Defra team has been working hard on this. However, that should not be an excuse for, as yet, failing to publish the Code. 

I am sure you will join us in our ambition of striving for food and farming that is fair for people, planet and animals. We want those working in the sector to flourish, the country to be more resilient to future shocks, the sector to contribute to net zero and environmental targets, and the public and future generations to benefit. 

We urge you to publish a strong Dairy Code of Conduct as soon as possible. 


[Please reply to:] 

Dan Crossley, Executive Director, Food Ethics Council 

David Barling, Professor of Food Policy and Security, University of Hertfordshire 

Jonny Crickmore, Chair, Raw Milk Producers Association 

George Dunn, Chief Executive, Tenant Farmers Association 

Tali Eichner, Policy Manager, CSA Network UK 

Jyoti Fernandes MBE, Campaigns and policy coordinator, Landworkers’ Alliance 

Alice Groom, Head of Sustainable Land Use Policy (England), RSPB 

Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming, Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming 

Patrick Holden, CEO, Sustainable Food Trust  

Martin Lines, UK Chair, Nature Friendly Farming Network  

Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy & Strategy, Royal Agricultural University 

Gareth Morgan, Head of (Farming and Land use) Policy, Soil Association 

Sue Pritchard, Chief Executive, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission 

Pete Ritchie, Executive Director, Nourish Scotland 

Jimmy Woodrow, Executive Director, Pasture for Life