Supermarkets turn noses up at megadairy milk

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Leading supermarkets are to blacklist milk from a proposed megadairy, The Independent has learnt.

Two farmers are to go ahead with plans for a £34m, round-the-clock unit with thousands of cows at Nocton in Lincolnshire. Peter Wiles and David Barnes shelved plans for a 8,100-cow plant in April following an uproar from residents and animal rights activists.

But yesterday they announced they would submit new plans for a 3,770 cow-unit next month. Although smaller, the plant would be double the size of Britain's biggest dairy farm and 30 times the average UK herd. Each cow would produce 58 pints of milk a day.

But most leading supermarkets say they do not intend to patronise it. In letters to a Parliamentary group seen by The Independent, Tesco and Sainsbury stressed their commitment to animal welfare and said they had "no plans" to buy milk from Nocton.

In another letter, Waitrose's managing director Mark Price wrote: "A dairy farm of the size proposed would not fit with the Waitrose way of doing business and I have to say that I am anxious that it represents the first step along the way towards a highly-industrialised, US approach to farming."

Yesterday Marks & Spencer also ruled out the idea, saying "M&S does not buy milk from 'super-dairy' farms and we are committed to our current pool of dedicated dairy farms."

Morrisons said it would consider buying from the farm. Asda refused to answer a "hypothetical" question.

Mr Wiles, from Devon, said bigger farms were necessary to ensure a future for British milk, because imports have been rising to plug holes in supply caused by small farms leaving the business. He denied the high-yielding Holstein cattle would suffer from higher levels of mastitis, lameness and infertility – as claimed by animal welfare groups.

"Definitely not," he said. "Cows need to live long lives and be healthy to deliver the best results for the farm, so it really is in our best interests to ensure cows are physically and mentally at their peak."

The farmers had originally planned to keep the cows indoors almost all the time. In a concession to campaigners aghast at "zero-grazing", they now propose the animals have access to grass "loafing areas" outside their housing for up to seven hours a day on dry days between April and October. They would be fed entirely on artificial products.

Animal welfare groups were unimpressed, saying they would oppose what they say would begin a new era of industrial dairy farming in the UK.

Pat Thomas, of Compassion in World Farming, said: "Apart from being coloured a darker shade of greenwash, the so-called new plans for Nocton Dairies are very little changed from the old ones.

"The only way forward is for this proposal to be stopped in its tracks and for farmers to be paid what their milk is worth, rather than forced down an avenue of producing ever cheaper and cheaper milk."

The Government has welcomed the Nocton Dairies proposed investment.

Last week Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said big farms were not necessarily worse for cows than smaller ones, a view shared by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, the Government's veterinary advisors.

Who will buy the milk?


No: "M&S does not buy milk from 'super' dairy farms and we are committed to our current pool of dedicated dairy farmers."


Maybe: "If such a dairy goes into production in the future we'll consider all the evidence and then take a decision on whether or not it's right for our business."


No: "Sainsbury's has no plans to source dairy products from the farm."


No: "We have no plans to buy milk from the proposed dairy farm."


No: "A dairy of that size would not fit with the Waitrose way of doing business and I have to say... that it represents the first step along the way towards the American approach to farming, much of which is highly industrialised."