/ Food & Drink

Do you want to buy dairy products made from British milk?

Milk splashing

Did you know that less than half the butter we eat is made from British milk? Would you like labels on dairy products to list where they’re from so you can pick products made in Britain?

You may have seen videos of cows brought into supermarkets or protesters buying up all the available milk in the dairy aisle. If you were unaware of the current dairy crisis, you may have wondered what was going on. So if you need to catch up on recent developments, here’s a quick summary of what’s been happening.

A decrease in worldwide demand for milk, combined with an increase in supply has led to a reduction in the prices farmers are receiving. Farmers all over Europe say that they’ve been getting below break-even prices for milk that ends up on our supermarket shelves.

Last week, the National Farmers’ Union called on the Government to:

‘Take action to ensure that contracts to all farmers are longer-term and fairer in apportioning risk and reward. […] Government also needs to urgently ensure that rules are put in place regarding labelling so that it is clear and obvious which products are imported and which are British.’

Origin labelling on dairy products

Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recently announced that she’s convening a meeting of farmers’ leaders and her ministerial counterparts from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to address this crisis.

Among initiatives that include cutting red tape and increasing exports to new markets, she said that she wants to ‘see better branding and clearer labelling of dairy products in supermarkets, retailers and throughout the catering industry so that people know when they’re buying British’. She added:

‘British farmers are superb at producing top-quality milk, but the reality is that this now represents less than half the UK dairy market. In fact, we have a “dairy deficit”. Less than half the butter we eat in this country is made from British milk and only a third of the cheese.’

Do you want to buy British?

Our research shows that people want to know where their dairy products come from and they like to buy British products. We, along with other European consumer associations, have been actively calling for country of origin labelling for dairy products at EU level. Progress has been slow but many agree that clearer labelling is desirable.

It’s right that the government’s calling on retailers to include country of origin labelling on dairy products. You should be given all the information you need to make an informed choice when you’re supermarket shopping.

Do you think manufacturers and supermarkets should display the origin of dairy products on the packaging? Will better origin labelling change your shopping habits?


I support labeling milk and dairy products that are produced in the UK. We then have a choice, if it comes to it, whether to maybe pay more for a UK product than for an import. However I do not support generally subsiding UK dairy farmers. Milk is an international commodity like lots of other foods, such as wheat, chicken, lamb, eggs, and producers need to be competitive one way or another.

I wonder whether all UK dairy farmers sell below cost price? It may be that the large farms that have invested in latest technologies – genetics, robot milking, computer-controlled individual rations – are profitable and will be even more so if they receive subsidies. Some dairy farmers have taken the initiative by selling milk direct, and particularly by making dairy products such as cheese and butter themselves (I believe selling milk to large dairy product producers is done at particularly low prices).

What surprises me is that there is a dairy farmers cooperative, set up presumably to help farmers, that gets particularly poor deals for their members.

I’d pay a small premium for UK milk – do already as we shop at M&S and they support English farmers with a better price than some, and mark it English Milk.


From a recent Guardian article:

“Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and M&S, because 100% of their own-label milk is bought under fair trade deals. Waitrose pays 32.08p per litre, while Tesco pays 30.93p per litre – but the fair trade deals they have in place only cover their own brands of milk. Other milk products are not covered.

M&S on 1 June cut the price it paid suppliers from 34.265ppl on a standard litre to 32.818. Sainsbury’s pays 30.87p per litre and said this covers 97% of the milk it buys.”

I believe that all the supermarkets need to pay more for their milk than they do at present, or British farmers will move out of milk production or corners will be cut, making our milk less safe.


I am appalled to learn that less than 50% of butter in this country is made from British milk. On whose side are the manufacturers? I think that labelling of the country of origin should be made compulsory


I don’t think labelling is the problem here, William. The imported butters in the Dairy aisles are very well marked with their country of origin because shoppers want to buy the foreign lines. People know that Lurpak comes from Denmark, Président from France, and Kerrygold from Eire, and that might be why they like them. What few know is that Anchor butter, the archetypal New Zealand brand, is made in Wiltshire from UK milk. According to the Intro the Secretary of State said “Less than half the butter we eat in this country is made from British milk . . .” which I presume includes the butter used by commercial food producers and the catering trade which is where most of the imports probably go.

Nicholas Duddy says:
7 September 2015

Yes labeled as British and not just meaning packed in UK.

Phil says:
18 August 2015

You’re thinking of First Milk Malcolm which has been late paying farmers and made a loss of £22 million.

Private Eye regularly reports on the ongoing crisis in the British dairy industry, more and more farmers quit dairy every year because it simply costs them money. The big supermarkets have far too much power to set prices.

Needless to say the abolition of the old Milk Marketing Board has much to do with the situation.

I support British dairy products and would be prepared to pay more for them.


I will pay extra for UK milk because I think the consequences of letting our dairy industry collapse are unthinkable, especially in the hillier areas with smaller fields that are not suitable for arable or vegetable production. Yes, we’ve had to shut coal mines and steelworks because of international competition and global over-supply, and it is tempting to think we could let farms go the same way, but closing coal mines and steelworks had a positive effect on the environment whereas the abandonment of farms will have the opposite effect. As I have said in another Conversation, changes to the UK dairy industry also have an impact on the home-produced beef industry.

Although only a third of cheese eaten in the UK is made from British milk, that might have a lot to do with the broadening of people’s tastes over the last fifty years as they enjoy more continental cheeses. Camembert, Feta, Jarlsberg and Gouda are obviously not going to be made from British milk, but huge quantities of British cheese made from British milk are sold here and some of our regional cheeses bear comparison with the finest from abroad. But variety is nice and there is always some continental cheese along with two or three UK cheeses in our fridge. Personally I have been impressed by the quality and tastiness of some British-made Brie.

I have often wondered whether some of the heavily-advertised mass-produced branded cheeses, that are also often discounted, are made from imported milk. Some use British milk exclusively [e.g. Cathedral City and Anchor] but others [like Pilgrim’s Choice] also use imported milk. I think the percentage of UK milk should be declared. I also think the catering trade is responsible for much of the imports in the pursuit of economy. So much ‘Cheddar’ is imported from Canada and other far-flung countries and I think UK consumers could switch allegiance and buy British with no detriment to their enjoyment and scarcely any impact on their pocket [there could even be a saving] and there are plenty of good strong Cheddars now available in the UK.

While a “Made only from UK milk” label would be useful when in the supermarket and faced with a vast array of cheeses, there is a growing trend for people to do their grocery shopping on-line and the major retailers could do a lot more to include the origin in their product images and the fuller descriptions and show a symbol to help us choose those made entirely from UK milk.

Much of what I have said about cheese would also apply to butter. Some continental butters have a distinctive taste or texture or composition, but many of the imported butters are virtually indistinguishable from British butter and substitution would be virtually imperceptible.


It makes no sense to import products that we have the capacity to make in this country. I’m all for free trade provided that this takes into account the environmental damage caused by transporting goods long distances, which is simply not happening.

I do pay more for British and especially locally produced food, but I have no idea how honest the labelling is.