Cheese pizza

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More than 75% of people agreed standards relating to dairy products and ingredients should be at least as high as for milk

Order a milkshake or coffee in a well-known fast food restaurant and you’ll be drinking milk produced to different standards. Buy own-brand cheese in a supermarket and the environmental and animal welfare standards may be different from the own-brand milk in the same aisle.

As a rule of thumb, welfare standards tend to be lower in processed foods. There’s a perverse assumption in the food sector that animal welfare and environmental standards matter more on steak than beef mince, and more on fresh fish than fish fingers. The industry is complicit in the myth that the further removed a product is from the animal, the less people care about how the animal was reared or its environmental footprint.

Times are changing, according to a recent Yonder poll asking more than 2,000 people in the UK about dairy standards. More than 75% of respondents agreed animal welfare and environmental standards relating to dairy products (e.g. yoghurt) and dairy ingredients (e.g. cheese toppings on pizza) should be at least as high as standards for milk itself.

People do care. There are just so many opaque parts of the supply chain that people can’t exercise that care. Our recent Business Forum brought together dairy farmers, retailers, manufacturers and processors to explore how we can empower farmers to transition to dairy that’s fairer for people, animals and the planet, as part of our ongoing Dairy Project.

Pushing for higher standards can feel daunting, not least when it comes to the important question of who should pay. Nonetheless, farmers told us they want dairy processors and retailers to come together to make better minimum standards across the sector.

Food manufacturing companies may want to raise the bar, but this would undoubtedly be a price shock for them to manage. Is the supply chain ready, particularly with food price inflation looming? And what about imports? While some dairy processors operate similar standards across the EU and UK, that is not the case for all milk powder, milk ingredients or processed products containing imported dairy.

Higher UK standards could result in manufacturers and retailers offshoring dairy production to places with lower costs and lower standards. This does not help the drive towards fairer, more sustainable dairy in the UK.

All dairy sold in UK outlets, no matter in what form, should be produced to high standards. Red Tractor standards provide a baseline – with new standards coming in from November – but how can they be ramped up higher? Protecting progressive UK dairy farmers from imports that undermine UK food and farming standards would help. Let’s all shake up dairy standards for the better.