Many consumers buy British dairy products because they want to enjoy the great pleasure they bring. They also want to support British farmers. A British flag reassures consumers of the provenance and world-leading standards. It is synonymous with quality and it's a mark people trust. This is particularly relevant when food safety is at the front of people's minds.
At the moment, these flags can be misleading. As it stands, cheese made in Ireland, with Irish milk from Irish cows, can be labelled as British if it is merely cut and packed in the UK. This is misleading for consumers and penalises Britain's dairy farmers who put their hard work, skill and time into producing and supplying top-quality milk. This in turn produces fresh, healthy, natural dairy products.
That is why last week I joined forces with Peter Kendall from the NFU, Billy Keane from Dairy UK and Philip Ponsford from the British Cheese Board to raise awareness of the issue and start a cross-sector campaign. Our aim is simple; we want a system which is fair to dairy farmers, processors and consumers - one which we can all trust.
Simple changes to packaging regulations would reassure consumers that they are truly supporting the British dairy sector. It will send out an important message of support to Britain's dairy farmers.
The legislation which governs food labelling comes from Brussels and the UK cannot amend this without the agreement of other European states. Clearer, honest country of origin labelling already exists for a number of products, including beef, eggs and imported poultry meat - we want the same common sense approach to apply to dairy.
After continued pressure, the European Commission is now looking into changing the legislation which governs origin labelling for milk and milk used in dairy products. They are due to report back to the European Parliament by 13 December 2014 on their recommendations.
With the abolition of EU milk quotas in 2015, the possibility of increased milk production in countries such as Ireland, could threaten the cheese industry in this country. Our dairy trade deficit, which is already significant, could increase. This would put more pressure on British dairy farmers. It is therefore crucial for them that we secure a new, honest system which ensures products which are labelled as British come only from British dairy farms.
This is an outcome consumers want as well, with 86 per cent of shoppers wanting more traceable products produced by British farmers.
I believe that to have any chance of success, we need to work together on this issue. I am therefore delighted to be working with the NFU and others. We will jointly be writing to the Commission, asking them to introduce a system that will clearly inform consumers of the country of origin of the milk and the place of manufacture of the product.
It's not easy being a British dairy farmer and they need all of our support. I, for one, am happy to give it.
This article was published in The Grocer, Saturday Essay section on 10th August 2013.