Co-operation destroyed

Chris Haskins (Special Supplement, 24 September) presents a lucid case in favour of farmers co-operating in order to market their produce. Unfortunately, he forgets his own role, as chairman of Northern Foods, in destroying one of agriculture's best efforts at co-operation.

In 1994, following the deregulation of the Milk Marketing Board, more than 60 per cent of dairy farmers created their own co-operative - Milk Marque (MM). Northern Foods was the first dairy company to undermine it by offering farmers a guaranteed premium over whatever MM was paying. Other dairies followed suit, and eventually MM's share of the market was down to 40 per cent. Still not content, the dairy industry took MM to the Competition Commission, which found that MM, despite paying the lowest prices of all the milk buyers, was "abusing its monopoly position". In April 2000, Milk Marque was forced to split into three parts. Milk prices immediately hit rock-bottom, and many dairy farmers were forced out of business.

If British farmers have been "spectacularly unsuccessful" at co-operation, then it is the likes of Haskins that are to blame.

Rob Bevin
Rugby, Warwickshire

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, What would you do?