By Tim Montgomerie
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Media moguls. Banks. Mobile phone companies. 'Big football'. G4S. UK business has been in the parliamentary firing line recently. Yesterday it was the supermarkets' turn. Glyn Davies, Tory MP for Montgomeryshire, used the last day of Commons business to highlight the pressures facing Britain's dairy industry and some retailers' allegedly shabby treatment of them. Pasted below are some highlights from his remarks.
The importance of the dairy industry: "Dairy farming has shaped and maintained the countryside of Britain as we know it for a century. It is an industry we should value and support. Today, dairy farming is in deep trouble—an important primary production industry torn apart by the corporate greed and ruthlessness of processors and retailers."
Some – not all – supermarkets exploit dairy farmers: "It is not possible to calculate precisely the cost of milk production because circumstances vary, but it is generally accepted to be 29p to 31p per litre. Some of our major retailers acknowledge this. Waitrose and Marks and Spencer contract with farmers and allow for the production costs to be covered. Sainsbury’s and Tesco, too, contract with farmers for some of their milk, and they too allow the costs to be covered. However, others do not and they should be named and publicly shamed: Asda, Morrisons, and Co-op are huge businesses that show a shocking disregard for their suppliers. The processors—the in-between businesses that buy from farmers and sell to the retailers—should also be named and shamed: Arla, Robert Wiseman and Dairy Crest are happy to watch suppliers go out of business, in order that they can maintain their large profits."
Government must empower dairy farmers: "In the longer term, the Government need to encourage progress on lots of other issues. We need to encourage farmers to come together to form producer organisations. The big problem we have with individual farm businesses and micro-businesses is that they are incredibly small and do not carry any power. We know that there is now an agreement from the European Union in the dairy package that we can encourage up to 30% of farm producers to deliver producer organisations. I am hoping that the Minister will reassure us that he wants to do that. We also need to move forward on the grocery adjudicator, although that might well have a limited impact on this particular problem, as for markets to operate we have to have a degree of fairness. When there is bullying and unfairness, the Government have to deal with it. That is why we have a Competition Commission, the Office of Fair Trading and other such organisations. The Government have to step in when the market is not working, and all of us know that this market is currently simply not working. It is working in favour of big bullying retailers and processors, and it is causing huge damage and driving into bankruptcy the dairy farmers that have sustained our countryside for so long."
> You can read the response of DEFRA minister Jim Paice here.