Further Dairy Protests Planned

UK - Following two recent protests blockading Tesco depots in Southampton and Hinckley, Farmers For Action (FFA) are planning to step up the protests in the run up to Christmas.
calendar icon 24 November 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

Chairman, David Handley explained that the group was established over 11 years ago. "As a group of dairy farmers we were frustrated with the National Farmers' Union (NFU), who we felt weren't doing enough to help the industry.

"Whilst we do a lot of negotiating and hold discussions throughout the supply chain, we also arrange direct action through protests."

Mr Handley explains that the dairy industry has been under increasing pressure for the last seven to eight years, but it is only in the last 12 months that it has taken a severe downturn, which is why he feels it is important to take action now.

The two protests seen recently in Southampton and Hinckley were just to 'test the water'. The aim is to escalate the action with more demonstrations, which will culminate in the second week of December with a mass protest across the country.

But what is the point of these protests? He explains that he does not want consumers to pay more money for their milk, he believes there is enough money in the supply chain to allow the retailer to pay producers a fair price.

It is hoped that these demonstrations will show Tescos that dairy farmers are more serious than ever before, and he says that FFA are wanting to hold discussions with the large supermarket, to negotiate prices.

However, despite the support for farmers at the previous demonstrations, Mr Handley says that Tescos are still unwilling to hold talks with FFA. He says that unless Tescos hold talks soon, demonstrations will continue into the New Year.

"Farmers profits are fallings, whilst retailers margins are increasing," says Mr Handley. "There are fewer and fewer young people coming into the industry, to encourage greater numbers entering we must show them that they can derive a living from it - which at the moment few can do.

Is it just Tescos that FFA are targeting?

"Whilst Tescos continue to show resilience to talks, then yes we will continue to demonstrate and blockade their depots. However we will also be targeting other large retailers as well," he says, without mentioning any names.

What is really at stake here, Mr Handley said, is the welfare of the families involved in dairy farming. He said that serious accidents are becoming more and more common on the farm, which he puts down to farmers being tired from working long hours in a bid to a least break even, and more importantly poor infrastructure.

"There is just no spare money available on any farms to invest in solid infrastructure and new equipment," he said. This not only affects farmers welfare but also at the end of the day animal welfare.

"Retailers have a moral responsibility to act accordingly here."

He said the protests in the coming weeks will be well planned. When you are bringing that many people into a group, it is important to ensure that everyone is well behaved - these are always peaceful demonstrations, he said.

Whilst we blockade, we would never destroy equipment or hurt people, he stressed.

The group has recently been accused of causing civil unrest, by NFU Chairman Peter Kendall. Mr Handley pointed out that FFA had never caused civil unrest, police are present on site during all protests, and when we are told to disperse, we do as they say, he clarified.

Although some people in the industry, organisations and producers alike say that the group is undoing the dairy industry's public image. Mr Handley said that things are getting desperate so we must do radical things.

"Consumers have a right to know what's going on. There is no point of hiding behind your image if your business is going bankrupt - your image won't save you."

Despite the NFU distancing themselves from the group, National Farmers Union Scotland's President, Jim McLaren said recently: “I have every sympathy with those who feel the need to resort to direct action to vent their frustration and we will work with them to achieve very similar goals. This winter we will continue to take the argument direct to the supermarkets, and if we need to do that on their doorsteps for them to listen, then so be it. "

A spokesperson for Tesco said that the company was confused by the protests, as the farmers demonstrating weren't Tesco suppliers.

He said that Tesco values the work it has achieved over recent years with the dairy industry, particularly with the establishment of the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group. He pointed out that farmers supplying this group were paid substantially more per litre of milk than other milk suppliers.

Whilst Tescos has not ruled out talks with the protesters, it does not plan to hold discussions with the demonstration organisers FFA anytime soon.

Farmers For Action is a member of the European Milk Board and works with other European producers to ensure a fair milk price across Europe.

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