Joan Smith: There's no latte without a dairy farmer


Three or four times a week, I go into a local coffee shop and order a double espresso. It costs about £1.70, although I'm not absolutely sure, and the place is usually packed. Yet I suspect that some of them head straight from Caffè Nero or Starbucks to a supermarket boasting about rock-bottom prices, the kind of place that sells anaemic chickens which have never seen the daylight in their brief existence.

It's a testament to the power of advertising: supermarkets have taught the public to value price above everything, while café culture has managed to achieve exactly the opposite. Few people seem to wonder why the milk that goes into their cappuccino or flat white is so ridiculously cheap on the supermarket shelf, where it's often treated as a loss leader – the National Farmers' Union (NFU) accuses Asda and Morrisons of "waging war with each other on milk prices". Now there's a crisis facing dairy farmers, with several going out of business each week, and the NFU says some farners are being paid less per litre of milk than it costs to produce.

Dairy farmers need 30p per litre to cover their costs. The price that many of them get from milk processors was cut in June and another cut is scheduled in August, making the price of a litre as low as 25p. Last week, farmers blockaded plants owned by one of the big three milk processors, Arla, and more protests are planned. They've got the support of chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who point out that milk is cheaper than mineral water. Actually, a pint of semi-skimmed costs less than a chunky Kit Kat, suggesting that something has gone seriously awry with consumer expectations.

The way food is produced and marketed in this country has created an obesity epidemic, factory farming, and an endless struggle by farmers to make a living. We've been hearing for years about big supermarket chains using their power to impose unreasonable terms on suppliers, suggesting that the milk of human kindness is in short supply in the food industry. The NFU says the latest cuts are driving down the price of milk to a point where it's no longer sustainable; it wants shoppers to support farmers by shopping at stores such as Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer and Tesco, which give farmers a better deal.

Four years ago, a study by economists at Oxford University upheld "the common belief that supermarkets currently hold the bargaining power". Farmers do all the hard work but are the weakest point in the supply chain. I've thought for ages that supermarkets should be obliged to display information not just about where their produce comes from, but if they adhere to fair terms of trade.

The revolution in the nation's coffee drinking shows that people do change their habits. And consumers have power, if they can be persuaded to use it. Anyone who's happy to pay £2 for a cup of coffee shouldn't think twice about paying a fair price for essentials, whether it's a chicken or a pint of milk.;

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong

Frankie Boyle

Election catch-up: Blairites for and against a Miliband victory

John Rentoul
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before