/ 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.

Whenever we talk of subsidising a UK industry, I like to know what it’s costs are and why it needs financial support – just to get all the facts. Perhaps there is an expert out there to tell us?
Some bits I wonder about
– is the rent dairy farmers pay a substantial difference between us and other producing countries?
– it seems rents increased on average 8% 2013-14, but in Wales by 63% (AHDB website). I don’t want to pay more for milk just to support greedy landlords (who may well increase rents still more when we pay more for milk).
– livestock costs reduced last year, as did feed.
– UK milk prices paid vary widely – M&S pay 31.44 to 33.69p per litre (June) whilst the farmers cooperative – First Milk – paid just £18.02 ppl – 47% less! How come such a huge difference?
– European milk prices vary from 15.36 ppl to 32,69 ppl,, an average of 22.68 with the UK average at 23.64.
At present overproduction seems the cause. however what happens when production and consumption is more balanced? Will we then still subsidise farmers even though the business becomes more profitable?
This seems not to be a simple issue that can be solved by subsidy. And subsidy tends to lead to inefficiency.
So perhaps someone has facts to help what is currently a rather emotive issue?

I must admit when these issues blow up it would be good to have an objective report on the underlying facts and economics of the business from all aspects. There was a time when government departments would issue such information but now there are political overtones with anything that comes out of Whitehall.

I was shocked to learn recently that, at a time when our dairy farmers are struggling, a huge proportion of our dairy produce is imported. This is totally crazy and surely unnecessary. For me it was a wake-up call – I wondered why on earth I was habitually buying Danish butter and French yoghurt. I now make sure I only buy Scottish milk and butter, and mostly Scottish cheese. I haven’t yet found a readily-available Scottish plain yoghurt that I like, but I’ll keep looking.

Outrageous that Butter is made with milk from outside the UK we should all support our Farmers.

If we do not use them we lose them,

Butter has always, from my recollection, been imported in large quantities from Australia and New Zealand. We label British butter as such so we have the choice of what we buy.
Just a thought about subsidising (one way or another) British milk, for example by paying more per litre in the supermarket. When demand and supply worldwide match once again and world milk prices rise as a result, will the British dairy farmers undertake not to raise the price of our milk? To mix metaphors, pigs might fly.

Let’s support all British made products.
They may be more expensive, but if we lose all our home producers then we are at the mercy of the importers, who could charge what they like. We have already lost many of our industries to other countries. Once they’ve gone they have gone..

Brian says:
22 August 2015

It is obvious from the way shoppers have been deserting the major supermarkets and taking their custom to the discounters like Aldi and Lidl, who import a large percentage of their products from the Continent, that they are more interested in cheap prices than ensuring our farmers have an adequate standard of income.

Richard says:
22 August 2015

The whole issue of cheap food has made discussion about producer survival take second place. Which? is also taking part in this by proclaiming which supermarket has the cheapest basket. Consumers need to move away from thinking that cheapest is good, as in the longer term our home grown food producers may not survive. However, with a substantial number of people on or close to food poverty there would have to a balancing support to them from the State, which current governments are reluctant to do.

A few years ago a group of processors and retailers met to discuss the plight of the dairy industry. They agreed to raise prices in concert, and pay more directly to farmers. As with many well intentioned schemes, this one backfired massively as consumer groups complained and the Competition Commission get involved. It was deemed to be a cartel practice, and the companies involved were fined millions of £s. They are now very wary of any price increase strategies.

The reduction in numbers of dairy farmers has not been matched by a drop in milk production. Thus farms are becoming bigger with more head of cattle in milk, with generally more sustainable commerciality, Again there’s a countering loss as rural communities suffer in remote areas when a small dairy farm stops producing milk.

Most of the liquid milk bought in this country is from UK farms. A little ones from Eire, but very little from elsewhere. The other products are where imported levels are higher, but as whole milk needs to be processed into white water (milk to drink) butter, cheese and so on, that is why the greater importation of other products damages the white water price.

I prefer to buy British products and mostly organic dairy. However, whatever the product, I would like to know the country of origin of the ingredients, in this case the milk… What is the point of only half supporting British i.e. the dairy companies when the product is made with imported milk.
Sometimes the information is in the very small print as on a pork product in Lidl – produced in the UK from EU meat. It went back on the shelf. Perhaps we should spend more time reading the packaging? But it does add time to the shop.

Shopping in M&S today, butters were clear where they came from and English butter was by far the cheapest. Maybe different in Asda and Lidl. M&S currently pay the most to dairy farmers for their milk – around 32p a litre and it sells for 57p. I’m happy to pay that for English milk and presume the margin leaves all in the chain reasonably happy.

I believe that all produce should show it’s country of origin – and if processed – the country of processing and of course this should include all dairy produce. I want to buy British and want to have the choice.

Jan S says:
22 August 2015

We support all products including information such as the country of origin and if feasible particularly with UK products to also include the region/county etc. We grow our own vegetables and like to buy local and very definitely British. We feel we need to support and be proud of all our British food and drink.

Geoff Martin says:
24 August 2015

All food, whether dairy or other, should have country of origin on the label. And there should be no “smoke and mirrors” about whether it was processed or finally packed in another country which then allows that country to state it is the country of origin

I endorse what Susan, Jan and Geoff have said above. However, labelling is not really an issue with dairy produce since the country of origin is frequently its unique selling point and manufacturers want to promote its foreign heritage. UK producers could certainly do more to badge their products – sometimes it seems they are ashamed of the “Made in the UK” tag.

Alongside the call for clearer country of origin labelling I should like to see some controls on the use of foreign-sounding brands that are actually made in the UK but only disclose that in the tiniest typeface on the back of the pack. I am thinking here of companies like the German company Dr Oetker [noted for their Ristorante pizzas – no, not made in Italy but Leyland in Lancashire] and Müller [part of the Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller group], the largest producer of UK yoghurt including most own-label yogs [in Market Drayton and Telford in Shropshire] as well as owner of that famous Scottish firm Wiseman Dairies.

Here is the link to the recent Guardian article I mentioned above: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/06/dairy-farmers-call-for-supermarkets-boycott-as-milk-price-falls This indicates that M&S is paying the farmers 32.818p per litre compared with Tesco at 30.93p per litre. That’s just 6% more. I visited an M&S store yesterday afternoon and the price of a bottle of milk was £1.29, compared with £1.00 in Tesco.

I would like to see the farmers getting 40p per litre from every supermarket and M&S charging less for basic foods such as milk.

What I’d like to know is just what the cost of producing a litre is, from the small dairy farmers who we would like to support to the large producers, who may well profit greatly from a “subsidy”.

I’ve found it hard to find real costs of producing a litre of milk. You’d expect the NFU to have current costs, but all I can find is 2010 prices. Average cost (all costs included) 29.1 ppl. So some dairy farmers will be more than this, others less. Price actually paid averaged 25.94 ppl.
Elsewhere 2013 figures show UK cost 30.48 ppl, New Zealand 21.63 ppl. No doubt shows our problem?

So perhaps someone can give real costs on which we can base an assessment of just how badly dairy farmers are faring – or not. As it seems little different from 5 years ago, there may be more to this than meets the eye. And why do not dairy farmers band together to form selling groups with more control of the price they can achieve?

Generally, where do subsidies cease for British producers of anything? They all involve protecting peoples jobs, whether it is food or any other manufactured product.

With many of our Conversations it is difficult to find reliable information, and and information that we do find could soon be out of date. The fact that farmers are complaining about milk prices and the fact that milk is now cheaper than it used to be does suggest that there is a genuine problem.

I am far from happy about bringing milk into this country when we have the capacity to produce it ourselves. It makes no environmental sense to move large amounts of low value products large distances, using fossil fuels and creating pollution. While not wishing to interfere too much with free trade, perhaps the EU should be looking at ways of cutting down the amount of bulk transport between countries.

Absolutely. We are an island, and although there are quick transport links to the continent recent troubles have shown that we cannot afford to undermine our own productive capacity.

If we want Daisybelle’s milk today on our corn flakes tomorrow then Daisybelle has to be living in the UK and the price of her milk has to be stabilised against global fluctuations. The grocers have been playing fast and loose with the reliability of our supplies by threatening our farmers with import substitution; they are now waking up to the fact that their behaviour is not popular with their customers and that there is no great price sensitivity in milk other than as an item in a price comparison basket.

I agree with Malcolm and Wavechange that we need more up-to-date facts on the economics of dairy production. Aside from the supply of fresh milk for domestic consumption [which is still almost entirely UK-produced], I suspect that the global commodity prices are driven by the milk traded in bulk for commercial food production or converted into various longer-life forms [e.g. cheese, butter, powder]. Getting a handle on that will be very difficult. It seems to me that the two price bases need to be uncoupled. To be able to sell a litre of milk – not far short of two pints – at no more than a pound today suggests to me that it is being used as a loss-leader. Even at £1.29 [M&S retail price] it is cheap relative to other drinks.

Cheaper than a lot of pointless bottled water. Crazy.

At the time of writing, Sainsbury’s British semi-skimmed milk is priced at 75p for a standard 2 pint bottle [1.13L].

The unit price is 66p a litre.

Larger volumes are 4 pints [2.27L] = 44p/ltr, and 6 pints [3.4L] = 43p/ltr.

This is economic ruination for the dairy industry; you could hardly milk the cow, pasteurise the milk, and sell it at the farm gate for those prices.

Buxton still mineral water works out at 40p a litre; Evian at 42.5p a litre.

A sugared and sweetened fruity liquid like Oasis “Citrus Fruit Punch” costs £2.50 a litre.

Susan Graves says:
15 May 2021

I would like to buy fat free fromage frais made in UK but can only find ones made in France which I refuse to buy. Please help.

There are recipes for making your own, Susan.

Susan – Have you considered Longley Farm dairy products which are made in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire? The company is proud of its UK heritage and makes a range of milk-based, cheese and yogurt comestibles. I have not tried them so I cannot attest to their taste or flavour. There could be other producers in the UK.