The last few weeks have seen a whole host of protests by UK dairy farmers - from ‘Milk Trolley Challenges’ to real dairy cows being brought in to supermarkets by farmers.
British dairy farmers have been taking action after major milk processors have dropped the price of milk. This slump in price is a result of a reduction in global demand for the product, due to oversupply.
The amount farmers are paid to produce milk has fallen by a quarter in the last year, dropping from 31.66p per litre in June 2014 to 23.66p in June 2015. Farmers say they are being paid less than the cost of production.
Intensification is not the answer
In reaction to pressure on price, some farming leaders are encouraging a move to intensive dairy farming; keeping cows indoors all year, in so-called zero-grazing units or mega-dairies. But this will not solve the current milk crisis – it will only deepen it.
Data published by the industry body DairyCo show that the cost of milk production is increased with intensification. Mega-dairies are reliant on costly grain to feed their livestock, unlike higher-welfare dairies which fed their cattle on low cost pasture. Furthermore, these large-scale indoor dairies will only exacerbate oversupply and thereby undermine the milk price for all.
Our CEO, Philip Lymbery, says:“Lowering dairy prices means that farmers often feel forced to drive their dairy cows to extremes in order to produce higher yields. Often they are housed indoors on a permanent basis or at the very least, their access to pasture is vastly restricted.
“Cows kept indoors consume large amounts of human edible crops unlike those kept on pasture that turn something we can’t eat into something we can. Furthermore, cows produce huge quantities of waste, which can create a huge pollution problem if managed incorrectly in intensive environments.
“The time has come for a fundamental rethink as current dairy farming isn’t working for either farmers or cows. Consumers must be encouraged to pay a fair price for higher welfare milk. Zero-grazed milk must be labelled as such so that consumers can make informed choices. Farmers must be encouraged to abandon zero-grazing and the drive to ever higher milk yields. Such yields make little economic sense as the cows are under so much stress that they have a short productive lifespan.
“Cows should be kept in sustainable pasture-based systems where they can enjoy high standards of welfare, fresh air, daylight and the warmth of the sun on their backs.”
We believe that dairy farmers in the UK, and indeed throughout the world, deserve a fair price - for a fair product. A fair product is one that protects the environment, supports rural communities, provides us with high quality nutritious food and gives dairy cows a good life.
When buying milk, and other dairy products, choose organic or RSPCA Assured, to ensure cows have had access to pasture grazing.