Lakeland Dairies has written to all 27 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) candidates in the Midlands North West constituency and sent them an empty milk carton which should have landed at their doors on Tuesday morning.

This move, according to Lakeland Dairies, was to emphasise the need to address fears of a lot more empty cartons and a fewer farms by the time the next election rolls around.

Ahead of elections on Friday 7 June, Lakeland Dairies has urged candidates in the European Parliament election to stand up and be “champions” for dairying.

Lakeland Dairies is a dairy processing co-operative with a turnover of €1.6bn. It has 3,200 farm family suppliers producing 2bn litres of milk annually. This milk is used to make 240 products, which are exported to over 100 global markets.

The letter asked all 27 MEP candidates to prioritise three key issues in the next parliament.

  • The retention of the nitrates derogation. This is critical to protecting the €17bn dairy industry, which supports rural economies. The derogation also allows Ireland to maximise its truly unique pasture-based, outdoor-grazing system.
  • Recognition of the critical role farmers are playing to protect and enhance water quality. Lakeland Dairies has five water quality advisers working with farmers to continue to make improvements.
  • Ensure that all funding to continue to support farmers to produce food in harmony with nature is delivered to the region.
  • Lakeland Dairies chair Niall Matthews said: “Champion is an iconic brand that has been in the fridges of families in our catchment for decades. The carton of milk we sent the candidates is usually full of healthy, nutritious and sustainable milk produced by our farm families 365 days a year.

    “However, our industry is worried that unless we are supported over the next five years there could be a lot more empty milk cartons and fewer farmers by the time of the next election.

    “We are asking the politicians to stand with our farm families and be champions for agriculture and for the rural communities in our catchment area. We cannot allow anyone in Europe to imagine a rural Ireland without milk production."

    The Irish dairy industry, he added, is standing on the precipice of enormous change, with farmers and the industry fully committed to embracing this change.

    However, Matthews argued that the backing and support of Ireland's MEPs is required now more than ever.