COMMENT: Everyone should support fair dealings in dairy

Foodservice companies can support more resilient dairy supply chains by prioritising trust and transparency in relationships, says Abigail Williams of the Food Ethics Council.

Back in February 2021 ministers announced plans to publish a new code of conduct that would ensure fairness across the dairy supply chain, following widespread recognition of the instability and insecurity facing dairy farmers at the hands of unfair milk contracts.  

Two years on and the statutory code is yet to materialise. In response the Food Ethics Council has coordinated a joint letter, addressed to Defra secretary of state Thérèse Coffey and signed by a range of organisations representing farming, food and nature, which reiterates the urgency of effective regulation.   

“While some farmer-processor relationships do work well, imbalances of power still exist within the dairy supply chain and can put immense pressure on farmers,” the letter reads. “We have heard first-hand stories of abusive practices and unfair clauses in contracts, which are unacceptable and must be stamped out.”  

Unfairness within the dairy supply chain not only impacts farmers’ wellbeing, but also limits the abilities of farmers and others to take necessary steps toward building a resilient, more climate and nature friendly sector. Signatories to the letter, which include the Tenant Farmers Association, RSPB and the Nature Friendly Farming Network, see the code as a vital opportunity to build more positive relationships, based on fairness, transparency, cooperation and sustainability, right across the dairy value chain.

It’s in the interests of everyone involved in producing, processing and selling dairy to have a properly functioning code of conduct. Foodservice companies can support fairer dairy supply chains by ensuring that processors and producers are paid fairly, and that contracts allow some flexibility, transparency, and the opportunity to participate in decision making. Fairer dairy is not just about doing the right thing because you have to. Better relationships with suppliers, underpinned by trust and transparency, will improve longer-term security and resilience of supply. 

Crucially, the letter also stresses the need to meet the growing expectations of the public, who should be able to access good quality dairy, that’s been fairly and ethically produced.  

The letter can be read in full on the Food Ethics Council website

Abigail Williams is dairy project lead at the Food Ethics Council

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