This week has seen a magnificent showcase of all things agricultural both at the Royal Welsh and Nantwich Shows. My focus has, as always, been on the dairy sector and whilst I was admiring the display of prime dairy cows and heifers at the Royal Welsh Show, as well as the wide variety of dairy products on show in the Food Hall (from raw milk, to butter, to milk shakes, to cheese, to ice cream and even cream liquor), other members of my team and our National Dairy Board were sampling and celebrating the vast variety of cheeses produced both here in the UK and further afield at the International Cheese Show in Nantwich.
The care and compassion in the industry was clear to see as you saw cattle being washed, dried and pampered for their class or a discussion on the final judging decision at the NMR or Holstein UK stand. Watching the Holsteins win the group of 5 competition was a true highlight of the show as the cows walked magnificently forward clearly well cared for and nurtured. It’s not only farmers that attend these shows, lots and lots of consumers do and it’s a real shop window for the industry - we can talk about what we do as farmers, and why we do it and we should encourage more and more consumers to attend such events.
Having spent the first two days of the Royal Welsh Show with positive, progressive dairy farmers and interested consumers it was quite a wake-up call to see the Times front page on Wednesday which featured the story of the Advertising Standards Agency's response to extremely sensationalist anti-dairy adverts. I’m not going to focus on the adverts themselves, they’ve had enough airtime before now, but the fact that individuals that have little or no experience or knowledge of the dairy industry can have such influence in public media is concerning.
Seven million or so listeners on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 programme on Wednesday heard a PETA activist tell a dairy farmer that his industry was inhumane, that he was a cruel individual. We have anti-dairy activists protesting outside national dairy events and trying to turn major retailers and big business away from the dairy sector. It’s easy for me to say “don’t get riled by it” or “don’t react” - but writing this while watching the highlights of Day 4 at the Royal Welsh Show – a day when colleagues are discussing school milk provision in London and two board members are inviting camera crews on their farms to learn about the reality of dairying – I’m pretty sure that most consumers continue to believe and trust that UK dairy farmers do a tremendous job in looking after their livestock, supplying fresh high quality milk for the nation’s needs every day of the year. We have nothing to hide – that’s why so many of our dairy farming members open up their farms to the public, or build viewing platforms in their milking parlours, or take in school visits.
This week’s ASA ruling shows that we need to increase our engagement with the public to talk about the dairy industry and the importance of dairy products in the diet – we can all do our bit to ensure the right messages are shared – and there’s help to do it - on our BackBritishFarming pages, on www.thisisdairyfarming.com or on the Dairy Council’s website. Let’s all do our bit to promote this vital sector and drown out the anti-dairy rhetoric with positive messaging.