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The Stirrer's campaign to persuade the NEC to guarantee fair-trade tea and coffee on their menus strikes a chord with Barbara Panvel. But, she asks, shouldn't the milk you put in be fairly traded too?

When will farmers and smallholders get a fair price for the food they produce?

Farmers say that the public is paying enough for food, but as middlemen are taking too much profit, rank injustice is being suffered by many of the country's most important workers

Peggy Sumner, a ‘hands on' Lancashire farmer in her 80s, told me in 1999 that for the last two years she could only sell her cattle for less than the cost of raising them. Over the following years her savings were whittled away and finally she went into debt to cover her living costs - and subsidise retailers.

George Locketts, a sheep farmer, brought a case against the British Wool Marketing Board. BWM has a monopoly on the purchase of fleece wool and paid him about £1 an hour, which did not even cover the cost of shearing. Though Harlech TV made an excellent programme about this, George and his wife lost. After further losses due to foot and mouth, they left farming.

Milk producers also have suffered as their prices dropped from 24.94p per litre in 1995 to 18.46p ten years later - though costs of production had risen steeply. During the same period supermarkets doubled their profit margins.

Producers need and deserve a price which covers their hours of work, plus production-related costs: feed, forage, bedding, vets' bills, machinery and property-related depreciation & maintenance, rent, quota leasing and finance costs.

Low income pressures have put farmers under stress and suicide levels are high, but people have been working for change.

In 2004 the organisation farm launched a `Just Milk' cam­paign, at Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire which aimed to engage consumers, in the hope of ending poverty milk prices.

In 2005, Welsh Assembly Countryside Minis­ter Carwyn Jones, said he would listen to the case for establishing a Welsh brand of `Fair Deal' milk.

This year a Fair Deal Award will be given to buyers nominated by West Midlands food producers for giving a fair price. The award-winning buyers could use the Fair Deal logo on their correspondence, advertising and product labels, so that customers can identify Fair Deal goods - just as some look for the Fairtrade symbol.

As Welsh Liberal Democrat countryside spokesperson Mick Bates said: "If everyone works together we could see the Fair Deal brand on the shelves in no time at all."

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