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    Fair Trade Milk

    Tuesday, 11 August 2015  |  Joanna

    Fairtrade was originally designed to make sure the impoverished farmers in the developing world who grew our tea, coffee, cocoa and bananas were paid properly for their crops. Multi national corporations were able to take advantage of these farmers' lack of bargaining power and need to sell their crops before they spoiled, so they could set their own prices. The price to the consumer would remain the same, and their profits would increase.

    To anyone following the debate around British dairy farmers' protests at supermarkets this is a familiar tale. Farmers need to milk their cows and get the product on the shelves. They don't have time to go round all the different supermarkets asking for the best deal - the milk would spoil before they had finished. Supermarkets hold the whip hand, to the detriment of small family farmers who work in the way their parents and grandparents did, rearing their cattle on grass, bringing them into the yard for milking, making our countryside look the way it has for centuries.

    There are those who say "If they can't produce milk for that price, they must cut their costs" which misses the point. The farmers haven't set these prices; if supermarkets decided they wanted to buy milk for 3p per litre would the farmers still be expected to reduce their costs to below 10% of the current cost?

    We need to decide whether we want to pay 66p for 2 litres of milk knowing that milk comes from cattle reared indoors on concrete and where the only people acting as custodians of the countryside are retired bankers, property developing aristocrats and Jeremy Clarkson, or whether we'd rather pay 75p to keep dairy farmers in business and preserve that way of life.

    So is it time for the Fairtrade mark to be applied to milk? This would cause a big problem for certain current Fairtrade marked products. Under the current rules for anything made from ingredients eg chocolate bars, cakes or biscuits to show the Fairtrade mark on its packaging all ingredients that can be Fairtrade must be. If milk (and by extension butter, cream etc) started to be Fairtrade marked, many of the products which currently have the Fairtrade mark would have to change their ingredients to contain Fairtrade dairy products.  Would Fairtrade milk only be available to UK customers from UK farms? 

    There are other ways to ensure milk is fairly traded. You can buy fair trade milk in some German supermarkets. Booths supermarket chain in the North of England sells its own fair milk from a selection of small farmers. But once you move away from that direct connection with named farms, who is to say whether milk is fair trade? Morrisons' decision to introduce "Farmers' Milk" as a separate brand is better than nothing, but only affects the farmers who supply Arla. I would question how we know the full 10p cost gets back to the individual farmers - are they, like Pizza Express, going to be taking a cut to cover their expenses. It really shouldn't be up to the customer to decide whether a product is sold at a price to cover its own production costs, and this is rather patronising - it smacks of charity, of giving the farmer a tip for the exceptional service of doing their job.  

    Accessory Fair is a member of BAFTS which is itself a member of WFTO, and these two organisations act to make sure members are in compliance with the Ten Principles of Fair Trade. Do we need an organisation to visit farms and ensure standards are kept? Do we need to go back to the Milk Marketing Board? Whatever happens we need to retain our connection to the people and animals who make our food and holding supermarkets to account for the price they pay at the farm gate is a good place to start.