Who should support dairy farmers in transitioning to ethical farming systems?

The report was published by the Food Ethics Council, a British think tank specializing in ethical food issues and sustainability in food and farming.

The release of the 36-page document follows a two-year project that involved workshops and conversations between the think tank and dairy sector stakeholders, including milk buyers, processors and retailers, with a focus on understanding farmers’ aspirations for, and barriers to, transitioning to farming systems perceived as more ethical – such as calf-at-foot, organic or regenerative.

The report shares actions that can support this change across the entire value chain, with a key focus on processors and retailers, who are viewed as having the greatest influence in the matter.

During the project, the think tank identified the tension of balancing the running of a profitable dairy business with responsibilities towards the environment, the animals’ welfare, and the farmers’ own wellbeing as the main barrier to change.

According to the organization’s Tesni Clare, many farmers “feel trapped in a system that rewards them for volume-based production rather than value-based products created in line with their – and societies’ – values”.

“We think of this as a treadmill,” she opened. “Over time, dairy farmers have had to invest in infrastructure in order to keep pace with what the sector demands of them.

“We are now in a situation where many farmers would like to make changes to the way they farm, but they are locked in financially with large debts and potentially stranded assets.”