Stephensons DairyBy Carol Lever, Director, Free Range Dairy Network

This week saw the official launch of the Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise label. The first time a label has guaranteed that cows have grazed outdoors on pasture for at least six months of the year and a fair price will be paid back to farmers.

The rise of the ethical consumer continues to grow demonstrated by the increase in sales and usage of free range eggs in products from cakes, to mayonnaise and other produce. Until now we had milk, either standard or organic but no real way of knowing if the milk purchased came from an intensive dairy farm or from a pasture based system. From today you’ll be able to make an informed choice in their dairy choices to match their other ethical food choices. Although we are starting small with the milk available in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria at first, our ambitions are to have Free Range Dairy milk and dairy produce available in every region in the UK. Currently we are in talks with independent processors and farmers in the UK including one in Gloucester that means we will be able to supply London customers soon.

People often see pictures of cows either on their milk cartons or at point of purchase and naturally assume that the milk came from that type of farming system. However this isn’t guaranteed and consumers can unwittingly be supporting a farming system they oppose. As people become more informed about their food and how it is produced, the more we expect milk and dairy products to come under the same scrutiny as eggs.

The dairy crisis has seen numbers of farms in England and Wales fall below 10,000. This is a loss of over 4,000 dairy farms in ten years and as the dairy crisis continuesFRD cows small with farmers facing more cuts to milk prices we can expect to see that number to continue its decline. Stepping into that gap are intensive dairy farms. Typically they will house their cows either on a zero grazed system or for at least 10 months of the year. Instead of grazing on pasture in the spring and summer months, the cows are fed a special mixed ration to help them produce the required high milk volumes. This changes milk from being a valuable source of nutrients to a cheap commodity and it is the farmers, cows and our environment that is paying the price.

We can continue to buy cheap milk knowing it is adding to the pressure on our existing pasture based dairy farmers or we can support our own UK ‘fairtrade’ dairy label. We need long term solutions for our future food and farming crisis and in collaboration we can each play our part in preserving a low impact sustainable farming system that has served us well for generations.

To find out more about Free Range Dairy, where you can buy it and the prices please go to www.freerangedairy.org and you can also follow us @freerangedairy. There is a slight price premium, but nothing like the difference between conventional milk and organic.