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Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff & Buchan

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Whiteford Speaks up for Dairy Industry in Westminster Debate

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Banff & Buchan SNP MP and SNP Westminster spokesperson on Agriculture, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, has accused the UK Government of a “dereliction” in not allowing the Groceries Code Adjudicator to impose penalties on those who violate the code.

A flashback to 2012 when local farmers protested
at milk prices outside the Peterhead Branch
of Iceland, supported by local MP Eilidh Whiteford.
The MP was speaking in a debate on a report from the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee into the industry.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Eilidh Whiteford said:

“I have a sense of déjà vu, because back in 2012 we debated the crisis in the dairy industry here in Westminster Hall. At that time, I welcomed the introduction of what was then the new voluntary code of conduct, but I pointed out that farm-gate prices were still too low to be viable, and that, until the prices paid to producers exceeded the cost of production, we would not have a sustainable dairy industry. That essential issue, which is not fully addressed by either the voluntary code or the Groceries Code Adjudicator, still underpins the problems facing the dairy sector.

“Most of Scotland’s milk production—92% of it—is for domestic UK markets, and primary producers, who have high input costs, are caught in and continually squeezed by over-concentrated supply chains. Dairy farmers point out that that those who supply Asda, Morrisons, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland and Waitrose receive substantially less than the cost of production for their milk. Asda’s suppliers say that they receive 56p for four pints against a production cost of 68p. Dairy producers cannot be expected to subsidise retailers in that way. In the long term, that is not in the interests of our food security or consumers to push dairy farmers out of business.

“When legislation for the Groceries Code Adjudicator was going through Parliament back in 2012, I argued strongly that the restrictions on who could make representations to the adjudicator would place serious limitations on its effectiveness. I would definitely like to see the adjudicator being able to investigate complaints from parties other than direct suppliers. The situation we are discussing is a good example of where that would be beneficial. However, that would still address only the symptoms.

“The Government’s failure to empower the adjudicator to impose penalties on those in violation of the code is a real dereliction that I hope they will put right with all due haste. I do not want the adjudicator to be another useless quango. Given the time constraints, I will not say anything about the intervention price except that I hope that the Minister will raise that at EU level so that it is on the policy makers’ agenda.

“To allow our dairy sector to sink and diminish without trace is short-sighted. We all recognise that there is a future for the sector in growing export markets. If we are smart, we could develop those markets for high quality, value added products. We have a strong traditional industry with a reputation for quality, excellent animal welfare and food standards and distinctive, unique regional products. Notwithstanding the current market issues, there are substantial and growing opportunities for our dairy industry and a clear role for Governments throughout the UK in supporting their development. However, while we are still selling milk below the cost of production, we will not have a sustainable industry.”

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