Letter signed by voices representing farming, food and nature urges Defra to publish a robust, thorough and properly enforced Dairy Code of Conduct  

Back in February 2021 Ministers announced plans to publish a new Code of Conduct that would ensure fairness across the dairy supply chain, following widespread recognition of the instability and insecurity facing dairy farmers at the hands of unfair milk contracts.  

Two years on and the statutory Code is yet to materialise. Thus a joint letter, addressed to Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey and signed by a range of organisations across farming, civil society and academia, aims to reiterate the urgency of effective regulation.   

“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,” the letter reads. “We have heard first-hand stories of abusive practices and unfair clauses in contracts, which are unacceptable and must be stamped out.”  

The group, which includes the Tenant Farmers Association, RSPB and the Nature Friendly Farming Network, adds: “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.”  

Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming at Sustain and a signatory of the letter, said:  

“Sustain is clear that we must not delay ensuring that the dairy supply chain is fairer and ensure that abusive practices, that we know happen, are eliminated. Our dairy farmers – often small businesses – are under huge pressure from the costs of energy and labour, and delivering for climate, nature and health. It is totally unacceptable for them to also face unfair contracts and negotiations.”  

The letter stresses the need for the Code to be “robust, thorough and properly enforced” in order to bring about meaningful change. Whilst it is vital that consultation with affected parties is not compromised, the signatories want to highlight the need to deliver a strong Code as soon as possible. 

The letter can be read in full here