Morrisons’ Milk For Farmers is PR rather than a fair deal for farmers

Morrisons’ Milk For Farmers is PR rather than a fair deal for farmers

By: Chris Walker
Date: 13 August 2015

On Sunday, shoppers in Stafford’s Asda store were in for a shock. Seventy farmers marched through the store accompanied by two cows to hold a rally in the dairy aisle. They were there to protest that the milk they produce is being sold for less than a bottle of water by supermarkets. While the farmers claim they need 30p per litre to cover their costs, supermarkets and other buyers have been using their power over the milk market to drive the price payment to farmers to as little as 23p. That’s more that 25% less than a year ago. It’s why more than 200 British dairy farmers have left the industry this year.

It’s not the first time dairy farmers have used creative direct action to demand a better deal. Recently, farmers have cleared supermarket milk shelves in a ‘Milk Trolley Challenge‘.  In 2012, farmers hosed the European Parliament and riot police with milk to demand more protection for the price of their produce.

Unsurprisingly, the recent protests haven’t gone unnoticed. On Tuesday, Morrisons announced it will launch Milk for Farmers. The milk range will sit alongside Morrisons’ own brand and will offer consumers the option of paying farmers 10p more per litre to support farmers. “We recognise that the current market for liquid milk is impacting on hardworking dairy farmers and their families,” say Morrisons. “We want to help”.

Yet the move tells us all we need to know about corporations controlling our food markets. Rather than using their immense power to secure a better deal for farmers across the board, or taking a little less of a cut, the supermarket has made fair prices just another consumer choice. Like fair trade coffee, sustainably caught fish and sweatshop-free clothes, consumers are left to make the right choice to pay more. Meanwhile supermarkets profit just the same, sometimes tempting customers through the door with ‘loss-leader’ prices on milk to increase sales.

With many existing on low pay and feeling the effects of austerity, customers are seeking low food prices. Unlike accommodation costs or utility bills, household expenditure on food can be squeezed to make ends meet. It’s why supermarkets are responding with ever lower prices on key goods. Yet rather than taking any hit, the squeeze is passed on to producers. As prices drop, consumers’ expectations of what is a fair price drop too.

In a food system where corporations like Morrisons maintain the power to hand costs back and forth between producers to consumers while keeping vast profits flowing, Milk for Farmers is more of a PR exercise than a fair deal for producers.

There is an alternative. Food sovereignty provides a vision for a food system where producers are valued, consumers can access affordable, healthy food, and farmers are supported to grow food sustainably. Across the UK and beyond, a growing movement of producers, consumers and campaigners are building and demanding food systems that are controlled by the people who depend on them, not corporations. It means reclaiming our food systems, demanding fair livelihoods, and fair food for all.

If you want to help build the movement, come to the Food Sovereignty National Gathering in Hebden Bridge on 23-26 October. It’s a chance to share skills, get involved and plan action for a better food system.

You can see the Land Workers’ Alliance’s policy on milk here. 

Photo from Farmers for Action