A North East MP has said supermarkets could be regulated to protect farmers and suppliers amid concerns over the undervaluing of milk.
Members of parliament across the political divide gathered at Westminster Hall for an over-subscribed debate over the dairy industry, voicing concerns over the pricing of milk.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, suggested the time had come to explore regulating supermarkets to protect farmers and suppliers – and said such a move would protect other rural industries.
He said: “Does my honourable friend agree that there are also pressures on, for example, the baking industry, in that the prices of cakes and bread are being driven down, to the detriment of suppliers?
“Their situation is very similar to that of the suppliers in the dairy industry, and we must tackle the supermarkets on this issue.”
Simon Hart, Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire had launched the debate.
He said: “Fluctuating prices, tensions between farmers and processors, and criticism of retailers, especially supermarkets, are nothing new in agriculture, but I do not want the debate simply to be a long list of complaints.
“That is not the purpose of the exercise. We need to understand what is going on in the world market and the relationship between farmers and processors, which has been raised in the House and outside Parliament on many occasions.”
Former Lib Dem Defra minister David Heath branded it “outrageous” that four pints of milk could be bought by supermarket shoppers for 89p.
He said: “How can it be that I can go down to the members’ tea room in this very building and I can buy a silly little bottle of water, not even with bubbles in it, one pint of water for 85p and Iceland supermarket can sell four pints of milk for 89p.
“Where is the logic in that, it is outrageous that it is undervalued to that extent.”
Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, said it was vital for the Government to provide better guidance on how co-operatives and producers can come together, to form better contractual relationships with customers.
Fellow Conservative Julian Sturdy, for the York Outer constituency, said long-term problems must also be tackled.
He said: “In the UK dairy industry, problems stem from the fact that over half the milk produced goes into the fresh liquid market. The Government can help by allowing farmers to diversify into other schemes.
“I know that it is not always easy, and that some producers and farms do not have the capability, but we have to tackle the problem: we are over-supplying the fresh milk market.”
Following the debate, farming union leaders met with the Government to discuss ways of easing volatility in the milk sector.
The NFU’s president Meurig Raymond and dairy board chairman Rob Harrison held talks with Secretary of State Liz Truss, to outline the difficulties faced by many farmers in the current market situation, resulting in several positive steps forward for Defra, the union and the industry as a whole.
NFU President Mr Raymond said: “It’s understandable that Government can do little about commodity price shifts, but I’m heartened by the continued enthusiasm from Liz Truss to listen to the industry on areas where they can make a difference.
“There are areas where we can work together with Defra on promotion, labelling, public procurement and taxation to ensure that we reach that bright future that I want all our dairy farmers to be a part of.
“The Secretary of State, like the NFU, recognised that long term there is positive future for the dairy sector and is keen to work with us to help it reach its potential.”