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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 10:25 GMT
Dairy farmers rally in London

Farmers gather outside Parliament to highlight their problems
Dairy farmers have protested in London at falling milk prices which have left many of them facing bankruptcy.

Farmers from across the UK gathered outside Parliament to highlight what they say is their plight brought about by a drop of a third in milk prices in three years.

Most farmers receive less than 10p for every pint they sell, while supermarkets charge up to three times that amount to the customer.

Richard Manners (left): Government is wrong
Many farmers say the situation, not helped by the strength of the pound, is so bad that they are facing bankruptcy while more than 5,000 people involved in dairy farming lost their jobs last year.

Richard Manners, who farms 700 acres in Oxfordshire, told BBC News Online: "We want a fair price for our product. Housewives pay 34p a pint for milk while we only get 8p.

"The government is wrong in its attitude to rural issues. They're destroying us like they're destroying Rover."

The rally in Westminster follows an increase in public protests by farmers to highlight their problems.

Strong pound

Earlier this month, dairy farmers took 20 tankers to a field in Monmouthshire to destroy milk worth more than 8,000 in an attempt to raise public awareness of lowering prices.

Farmer Jonathan Gerrard, who travelled from Cheshire to join the London protest, said: "Someone has got to listen to us, we're dying.

"We can't carry on like this and the government has got to do something.

"It has let farmers down like it has all manufacturing industries, but farmers are particularly susceptable to the strong pound.

"Farmers are also in a poor position to negotiate so supermarkets can take the advantage.

"But this protest is just the tip of the iceberg, the next six months is going to be the real acid test."

Farmers receive about 8p a pint
Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire Lembit Opik was among MPs supporting the farmers' protest.

He said: "The issue is very simple, is something isn't done soon then small farmers will have to merge with big ones or go out of business completely.

"People are trapped in the industry and they're making a loss day after day.

"The challenge is to convince the government they cannot ignore the rural lobby."

He is pushing for Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown to introduce a retirement scheme for farmers to prevent overcrowding in the industry.

In a report, the National Farmers' Union is warning if farmers continue to leave the industry, the UK may not be able to fulfil its 13 billion litres a year requirement for milk.

Speaking ahead of the gathering in London, NFU President Ben Gill said: "British dairy farmers set world standards of excellence in milk production - quality tests consistently put us amongst the best in the world.

"Yet we are paid less for each pint than anyone else in Europe, not even enough to cover productions costs.

"If Britain is forced into importing milk from abroad because the dairy industry has been left to collapse it would be a national disaster, both for farmers and for the public who would be deprived of a great institution and a great quality product - the British pinta."

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