Dr Sentamu and Dr Morgan: Fairtrade for British farmers

26 July 2012

GAVIN DRAKE

Anger: supporters of the campaign group Farmers for Action blockade the Muller dairy headquarters in Market Drayton, Shropshire, as part of a night of protest over wholesale milk prices on Sunday

Anger: supporters of the campaign group Farmers for Action blockade the Muller dairy headquarters in Market Drayton, Shropshire, as part of a night ...

THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, and the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, have urged that Fairtrade principles should be extended to British farmers; and the Farm Crisis Network has asked churches to designate this Sunday as a day of prayer for farmers in the UK.

The moves are made against a background of dairy farmers' staging lightning blockades of dairies, milk-processing plants, and transport hubs, in protest at reductions in the farm-gate prices. Many of them are receiving less per litre of milk than it costs to produce.

One of the largest wholesale milk suppliers in the UK, Robert Wiseman Dairies, cut the amount it pays farmers by two pence per litre in June, and has announced a further cut of 1.7p, to take effect from 1 August. It blames a fall in the worldwide commodity price for dairy fats.

Farmers say that they are unable to switch to other dairies because they are locked into contracts that require them to give six months' notice of termination. Many say that they will be forced out of business by the time their contracts end.

On Monday, the Government announced that it had negotiated a code of practice between farmers and dairy processors to make contracts fairer and easier to cancel. But the agreement has no effect on the farm-gate price that farmers are paid.

Paul Rowbottom, a dairy farmer and agricultural-feed supplier from Staffordshire, said: "The morale is awful. I was with a customer last week who milks 300 cows on a family farm. . . The lady sits at the kitchen table in tears, devastated at what she is going to do with her farm. That's how bad it is."

Since the protests began last week, ASDA, Morrisons, the Co-op, and Aldi announced increases in the amount they pay for milk, but the industry says that this still leaves many farmers selling milk for less than the cost of production.

On Wednesday, Dr Sentamu called for a Fairtrade mark for British produce. "How can we expect to pay less for our milk than, say, a bottle of mineral water, or cola? How can we expect farmers to go on producing the best produce in the world - tasty and nutritional home-grown produce - when we are paying them below the going rate for their labours?

"I would love to see a Fairtrade mark for British goods. Cheap foreign imports are flooding the market, and British farmers are not getting a fair deal. We should demand fairness not just for workers overseas, but also at home, too."

On Monday, speaking at the Royal Welsh Show, Dr Morgan said: "We are short-changing our dairy farmers, and that is a matter of justice and morality. We are all responsible, and we all have to be prepared now to pay a fair price for a quality product because fair trade begins at home."

The Fairtrade Foundation, which controls the Fairtrade mark in the UK, said that it had held trials of a UK mark in a pilot project with the Soil Association, but had decided to focus on its core objective, which was to support farmers in the developing world.

Question of the week: Would you pay more for your milk in order to benefit British farmers?

The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, has written a prayer for use on Sunday, the day when churches are requested to pray for the farming community:

Heavenly Father,
the earth is yours and the harvests are your bounty.
We pray for our arable farmers
in this year of extreme weather.
We pray for our dairy farmers
with supermarkets forcing the price of milk down
and with bovine TB in some parts of the country.
We ask your blessing on the harvest
and on all who work in farming.
We ask that farmers facing difficult times
may know your love
and our support.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen. 

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