Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss has called on retailers to introduce clearer labelling on their products.

  • Ministers call for clearer product labelling to show where products are sourced
  • Comes following crunch meeting with farmers unions
  • Tesco to meet farming bosses today to discuss “concerns” over volumes imported from outside the UK

She claimed that less than half of the butter and cheese bought by shoppers in the UK is made from British milk and said shoppers should be able to clearly see where their products are being sourced.

The call came following a meeting between ministers and and the National Famers Union to discuss the future of dairy farming. It came off the back of protests by campaigners over the price that dairy farmers are being paid for milk.

As well as changes in labelling, famers unions also called for retailers to provide more clarity on sourcing policies and engage in “better, more consistent promotion” of British food.

The crunch meeting last night, which was attended by presidents of the National Farmers Union (NFU), NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru and Ulster Farmers Union, came following two weeks of protests in supermarkets and blockades at distribution centres.

Asda, Aldi, Lidl and Morrisons have all agreed to increase the amount they pay farmers for milk following the string of demonstrations. Farmers blockaded distribution centres and cleared the aisles of milk in a series of ‘milk trolley challenges’, even herding cows into supermarkets in some instances.

Tesco has also been dragged into the row even though the price it pays to its dairy suppliers is already linked to the cost of production. But the supermarket giant has now come under fire because of the volume of dairy products it allegedly imports from outside the UK.

Following blockades at its distribution centres in Avonmouth and Widnes, a spokeswoman from the grocer told Retail Week that its commercial director for fresh food, Matt Simister, would meet with representatives of the campaign group Farmers For Action today as “part of ongoing dialogue” with farmers.

Truss told the Guardian: “I want to see better branding and clearer labelling of dairy products in supermarkets, retailers and throughout the catering industry so that people know when they are buying British, and we have agreed to have further discussions with the food industry on this.”

Time for action

The four UK farming union presidents said in a joint statement: “We cannot allow the meltdown in the farming industry to continue. The Secretary of State and the devolved agricultural ministers have acknowledged the threats facing the farming industry and the need for urgent action.

“Our farming members now expect to see these words followed up with visible, tangible actions. The ministers should be in no doubt that the time for talking is now over.”  

The statement added: “The UK farming union presidents once again stressed the importance of timely BPS payments and ministers all committed to do all they can to ensure this happens. These payments are going to be essential to the cash flow of many hard-pressed farms.

“In the immediate short term, we look to the retailers and food service companies to ensure they are treating their farming suppliers fairly. We believe they have a responsibility to ensure that there is a sustainable farming industry and they need to understand their vital role in this to guarantee their security of supply in the future.”