Meurig Raymond tv crew

Retailers have defended their milk procurement policies after farmers’ unions this week accused the sector of devaluing the product to “get customers through the door”.

Widespread farmer protests over low farmgate and retail prices for milk came to a head on Monday (10 August), when the UK’s main farming unions staged a crisis summit in London.

A joint statement issued by the group warned that British produce could disappear from supermarket shelves unless politicians, retailers and processors faced up to the crisis enveloping the farming industry, and called on retailers to “stop devaluing British food” and demonstrate “how you are ensuring that all the food you are selling comes from a farm which has been paid a fair price”.

The summit prompted fierce debate over the value of milk and the role supermarkets play in the supply chain, but the British Retail Consortium defended the sector, insisting “there is no connection between the price of milk in supermarkets and the price retailers pay farmers for their milk”.

An action plan outlined in the statement also called for UK farming ministers to meet urgently to ensure longer-term and fairer contracts, the creation of new labelling rules, and for the public to “keep asking retailers what they are doing to ensure farmers receive a fair price and keep buying British”.

But BRC director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie claimed the retail industry paid “a fair price” for milk and said supermarkets were already “giving great support to farmers” through producer groups and clear country of origin labelling on cheese and butter. “We understand the current frustration of farmers but it is wrong to blame retailers,” he said.

Opie blamed low farm incomes on “the current downturn in the global market” and said retailers, not farmers, were paying for the price cuts enjoyed by consumers.