The UK Government has provided further details about new regulations to promote fairness and transparency in the dairy sector. 

The new regulations, when introduced, promise to ensure clearer pricing terms, allow farmers to challenge prices, and stop contract changes being imposed on farmers without agreement.  

Responding to the announcement made yesterday by Farming Minister Mark Spencer MP, our Executive Director, Dan Crossley, said: 

“At a time when so many farmers are leaving the dairy sector, we welcome further details being announced about supply chain regulation. We and many others have been calling for a robust, properly enforced dairy code of conduct. Steps to introduce clearer pricing mechanisms, avoid contracts being imposed on farmers without their agreement and to better protect the rights of buyers and sellers are much needed, particularly if strictly enforced. 

But don’t wait for the milk to turn sour. We urge the UK government to step up the urgency in bringing in this code. If the regulations are phased in over two years, as has been mooted, it will have been over five years since the government consulted on whether mandatory terms should be introduced for dairy contracts. How many more examples of unfair dealings and power abuses will there be, and how many more dairy farmers will have gone out of business, by the time this regulation is fully introduced?” 

Current dealings along dairy supply chains are patchy at best. What farmers get paid and how they are treated varies hugely. Some contracts allow for transparency, flexibility and diversification, while others lock farmers in. Through our Dairy Project, the Food Ethics Council have heard firsthand examples of farmers facing ’bullying tactics’ and sudden changes to contracts at the discretion of buyers. Many farmers lack the stability, financial security and communication channels necessary to invest in sustainable futures. 

Last month, the Food Ethics Council held a landmark meeting at a dairy facility in Somerset, bringing together major milk buyers, processors, cooperatives, and retailers to explore the role that these stakeholders can play in supporting fairer dairy supply chains. There was a call for fair milk contracts, fair and transparent prices, and working relationships built on trust and communication – echoing calls made by farmers themselves. It is clear that fair and transparent relationships are wanted right across the supply chain, by both producers and purchasers. 

Industry leaders present at the meeting also showed support for mandatory terms for contracts, arguing that legislation would allow for those wanting to do the ‘right thing’ to have a level playing field – so that they are not undercut by competitors or imports with lower social, environmental, and welfare standards. 

Find out more about the Food Ethics Council’s Dairy Project here.