On the eighth day of Christmas...


My true love sent to me: eight maids a-milking. In the Christmas song, A Partridge in a Pear Tree, these may signify the eight beatitudes or blessings in the Sermon on the mount: blessings to the poor, the meek, those who mourn, the just, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those who suffer persecution.

But what of the milkmaids? Well, they and the cheesemakers are hardly blessed, thanks to a Catch-22 conspiracy of politics and interest groups. Britain's Office of Fair Trading has claimed that the big four supermarkets colluded to keep the prices of milk and dairy products artificially high, pocketing an estimated £270m in the process.

The supermarkets look like being forced to stump up huge fines, though they regard it all as a bit rich. After years of everyone complaining that they screwed down farm gate prices from their suppliers so low that it was threatening the future of the dairy industry, the supermarkets decided it was time to get together and be a bit more generous to the farmers. Prices were duly put up and...then the whistles started blowing. In business, you just can't win.