Agriculture minister admits he does not know price of milk

Jim Paice Jim Paice said price cuts were a "massive burden" for most UK milk producers

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The agriculture minister has admitted he does not know how much a pint of milk costs, telling the BBC his wife "buys most of it".

Jim Paice's comments come as smaller milk producers plan a protest in London on Wednesday against cuts in many of the main processors' prices, which they say are putting farms out of business.

Mr Paice warned them against "militant" action when they reached Westminster.

But he added there was "clearly something wrong with the market".

Some supermarkets sell non-organic milk for about 30p a pint, for larger bottle sizes. Single-pint bottles are offered at nearer 50p, with smaller shops often charging more.

Milk delivered to the doorstep costs consumers about 65p a pint.

'Market in operation'

Politicians are frequently asked questions like the price of bread or milk as part of a "normality" test by interviewers.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today, Mr Paice said: "We buy our milk usually from a local supermarket, which is one that has has an aligned chain, so paying the higher rates [to dairies], or from the corner shop in the village."

Asked if he knew the cost of the milk he purchased, he replied: "No, because my wife buys most of it. But I have checked where it comes from."

Robert Wiseman, Britain's biggest fresh milk company, was taken over by European dairy giant Muller in January. In June, the company cut the price it pays for milk by 2p per litre. It plans to reduce it again by 1.7p in August.

Its standard litre price would then be 24.73p, which small dairy owners say is below cost price.

Mr Paice said: "When you see that the price of bottled water is far more than the price of milk per litre, then there's clearly something wrong with the market place.

"But every supermarket, every retailer has to compete and, if others are selling their milk for less, then they are going to have to sell their milk for less to be able to sell any milk at all. That's the market in operation"

Following Wiseman's move, other milk processors in the UK announced price cuts last week.

Farming unions have demanded a reversal, ahead of the protest on Wednesday, when they will also meet Mr Paice. Some dairy owners have said they are considering disrupting supplies.

Mr Paice said the price cuts were "a massive burden for the vast majority of dairy farmers", adding: "I do not support physical protest, but if they want to come to London and express their views, then I entirely understand that and support it.

"If there is a call for more militant activity then I will condemn it. That's not the right way forward."

For Labour, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: "Farmers and consumers will be shocked that he doesn't know the price of milk when people are struggling to pay for their weekly shop and there's a crisis in the dairy industry.

"At the dairy summit tomorrow, Jim Paice will call for farmers to get a decent price for their milk - the trouble is, he is so incompetent he hasn't a clue what it should be."

The National Farmers' Union has said it will support any action that is peaceful and legal.

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