When I was asked whether I would consider becoming the chairman of Dairy UK, I did not answer ‘yes’ immediately.
I felt I had to consider what the organisation had achieved and could achieve as the voice of the industry and also, more importantly, the industry’s position and direction. It didn’t take long to conclude that both have a lot more going for them than against that the glass (of milk of course) is half full, rather than half empty.
It’s true we operate in a climate that is too adversarial, but we have made substantial progress - and collaboration and consensus really are the way to achieve that common goal of a sustainable and profitable supply chain.
That said, I do not underestimate the root causes of confrontation for a minute. Dairy farmers work incredibly hard, and the returns when the milk price is low make life very difficult.
We all know there is no magic wand to resolve the issue of milk price. Dairy UK can’t do it, groups of dairy companies certainly cannot and major retailers operate within as competitive a sector as dairy companies. What we can do is to help create the best environment for businesses to succeed.
With so much market volatility, there’s little doubt the road to stability and profitability will be a bumpy ride. That’s without taking into consideration the battle to preserve the nutritional integrity of dairy products in the face of pressure from the anti-dairy lobby, the most immediate challenge we must address.
Product labelling is changing throughout the EU. We must ensure provide full transparency on origin and communicate the full nutritional profile of our products, while respecting public health agendas. It’s harder to do this in the UK than in the other EU countries.
” The glass (of milk, of course) is half full, rather than half empty”
I believe Dairy UK can meet these challenges. First, the industry has a fundamental strength in that supply of and demand for UK dairy products is very healthy. Second, the UK dairy industry is one of the best in the world. It is sophisticated and innovative. Our environmental performance is progressive and our milk contracts are well ahead of the game in quality.
Nevertheless, we must continue to learn from other countries as well as drive the global agenda, as we have done with the Dairy Roadmap, which is still the global blueprint for managing environmental sustainability.
Dairy UK also drove discussions that led to the establishment of the Voluntary Code of Practice, another example of where we have led the process of change in Europe.
Under my leadership, Dairy UK will strive to ensure that dairy businesses are as free from bureaucracy as possible and help them make the right environmental decisions as well as secure the best possible returns, whether here or abroad.
Finally, as an industry and an organisation, we must continue to put the interests of consumers first. Our fate lies in their hands, and keeping them firmly mind - throughout the supply chain - will stand us in good stead as we go forward.
Billy Keane is chairman of Dairy UK