The Fairtrade Foundation director writes about food traded at below cost of production in Britain

ft barbara crowtherBarbara Crowther, Director of Policy & Public Affairs, Fairtrade Foundation, has led the lobbying of the UK government for investment in smallholder agriculture, as part of the organisation’s Make Food Fair programme. She currently sits on the Board of Fair Trade Advocacy Office, a shared EU advocacy programme for the Fair Trade movement, based in Brussels.

Two years ago a sister site, which had been campaigning on a fair deal for food producers for some years, pointed out that in Austria and Germany Fair Milk is already for sale.

nfu-ft-cowThe price farmers get for that milk allows them to cover the costs of production. ”Tegwen” – the Fair Trade cow – has the message ”Llaeth Teg” (Welsh for Fair Milk) as efforts have been made to spread the idea there and in Scotland; until Fair Milk is introduced in more countries, it is suggested people buy milk and milk products from direct marketing close to where they live.

Ms Crowther writes:

You can’t have missed UK dairy farmers in the news recently campaigning for fairer prices for their milk. It’s raised the question of why Fairtrade can’t begin at home and why the mark can’t be put on milk too? It’s a fair question – one that’s been debated many times – so, following our new blog about it, we thought we’d share our response with you.

When the newspaper Metro polled its readers on whether they would like to see fair trade milk, a whopping 94% of people agreed.

fairtrade logoCould we make our Mark work on milk? It’s a fair question, and is something that has been looked at, and discussed many times – not least as part of a ‘Local and Fair’ conference a few years ago, bringing Fairtrade and Cumbrian farmers groups together to discuss the issues they hold in common, co-ordinated by Joe Human.

The Fairtrade Foundation was one of many organisations that successfully lobbied for the establishment of a Grocery Code Adjudicator to ensure fair play between retailers and their suppliers, according to the Grocery Sector Code of Practice.

Issues of below cost of production trading are not investigated by the Grocery Code Adjudicator

It is clearly already doing good and useful work, but neither its mandate nor the Code itself, are allowed to investigate issues of below cost of production trading. Its focus remains on supermarkets and their direct suppliers, and does not include for example, the relationship between suppliers and primary producers. So farmers who sell via intermediary companies aren’t covered.

In short, we are 100% behind the concept of fair trade milk, but we’re not necessarily the right organisation to invest in the work that would be required to set up such a scheme, which we believe would also need to deliver against sustainable agricultural practices and high animal welfare standards too.

Dee Marrable commented:

Given that many dairy farmers in the UK are also earning less than $2 a day I see no difference (between their case and that of farmers you support). Whilst they may have unions to represent them these have proved to be very ineffective and given the anti union bias of the British Press it can often be counterproductive for even a mention of a union when explaining the dire situation most diary farmers now find themselves in.

The importance of locally sourced food and the underlying food security issues

Finally there is a very unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby out there who simply do not understand the importance of locally sourced food and the underlying food security issues which are only going to get worse as the global population grows.

Please reconsider your decision and look again at supporting our dairy farmers.

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