Welcome for EU bid to give farmers more power on milk prices

Scottish politicians and farming leaders yesterday welcomed moves by the European Union's agricultural committee to strengthen the hand of milk producers through better contractual arrangements with buyers.

The committee supported a report produced by Ulster MEP Jim Nicholson to which an amendment was put by Scottish MEP Alyn Smith calling for mandatory written contracts across the milk sector.

The move is aimed at counteracting what is seen as an imbalance in the milk supply chain where milk producers face concentrated buying power resulting in an unfair distribution of the price eventually paid for their milk.

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Speaking after the vote, Smith said: "It's been clear for some time that there are deep structural problems in the milk market thanks to an inadequate form of deregulation that left dairy farmers without adequate bargaining power and without even the security of knowing what price they would receive for their delivery."

The European vote was also welcomed by NFU Scotland vice-president Allan Bowie as taking producers one step closer to having effective negotiating powers.

But he regretted the fact that the UK agricultural department, Defra, had not supported the package.

He said: "The time is right for Westminster to stop dragging its heels and look at the positives - such as mandatory contracts and stronger producer organisations - that the dairy package can provide."

He reflected that recent producer meetings held by NFU Scotland had received unanimous backing for contractual changes between dairy farmers and milk buyers.

The Nicholson report will now go to a plenary session of the EU Parliament in September where all MEPs will vote on the dairy package.