Farmers target Dairy Crest in protest over cheese prices

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The Independent Online

Two of Dairy Crest's London milk depots were last night being targeted by hundreds of angry milk farmers who are furious at the food group's refusal to pass on wholesale price rises that could earn them an extra £200 for every tonne of Cheddar cheese sold.

Farmers were picketing the group's depots in Dagenham, east London, and Hamworth in Middlesex, stopping weekend milk deliveries from getting through. The dairy farmers, who have blockaded creameries from Lockerbie in Scotland to Totnes in Devon during the past seven days, want to force Dairy Crest to pass on price rises promised by the supermarket retailers for milk used in cheese production.

The protests cast the supermarkets in a rare, favourable light and come after the grocery stores agreed to pay an extra 2p per litre of liquid milk on the condition that processors such as Dairy Crest passed the price rise on to farmers. David Handley, who rose to fame as a leading agitator in the fuel protests of 2000, is co-ordinating the protests for the Farmers for Action group.

"The milk processors have us by the short and curlies," one dairy farmer, who did not want to be named, said yesterday. "We want to put pressure on the likes of Dairy Crest to stop selling our milk at below the cost of production." Arla, the Scandinavian group seeking Government approval for its merger with Express Dairies, and Glanbia, the Irish dairy group, have also been targeted.

"The intermediaries [such as Dairy Crest] don't like us talking direct to retailers. They would like to maintain the existing feudal-serf relationship with us," the farmer added.

He said supermarkets had promised to pay the equivalent of 2p per litre of liquid milk extra for the supplies used to make cheese, equivalent to an extra £200 per tonne of Cheddar.