The dairy industry has reacted with scepticism to a new welfare campaign fronted by Joanna Lumley - and has warned it could give consumers the wrong idea of the British dairy industry.

The Supporting Better Dairy campaign, organised by Compassion in World Farming, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s brand, launched this week with the aim of giving the EU’s 23 million dairy cows a better life through dairy cow-specific legislation.

WSPA UK director Suzy Morris said standards on UK dairy farms were typically higher than in other member states, but that cow welfare had “not improved for the past 10 years”.

However, NFU chief dairy adviser Rob Newbery said farmers were already working hard to reduce lameness and mastitis, and voluntary schemes such as Red Tractor had done much to boost welfare standards. “These issues wouldn’t be addressed any better by these proposals, and I am concerned the campaign will give consumers the wrong idea of the UK industry,” he said.

Given how farm-focused the campaign was, organisers should have asked the NFU for input instead of “going behind our backs”, Newbery added.

Dairy UK said more than 95% of the milk produced in the UK was covered by the Red Tractor scheme, which provides independently-verified welfare standards for dairy cows. “The industry is always receptive to opportunities to improve its standards, but we do not consider further regulation to be necessary,” a spokesman said.

However, the RSPCA - which runs the Freedom Foods scheme - said it welcomed the campaign. “We support the Better Dairy Campaign, in particular the need for an EU directive for dairy cow welfare,” said a spokeswoman.