SUPERMARKET CODE FAILS FARMERS

On Monday 17th March the results of a UK farmer survey undertaken by Grassroots Action on Food and Farming, Friends of the Earth, British Independent Fruit Growers Association, Small and Family Farms Alliance, Pig Association, the Farmer’s Union of Wales and National Federation of Women’s Institutes revealed that many farmers feel the Supermarket Code of Practice [1], introduced a year ago, has made no difference to the way in which supermarkets did business with them. But the survey also shows that farmers feel they cannot complain about supermarket practice because of fears that they will lose their contract and the market for their produce.

The survey [2] asked farmers how they had been affected by the Supermarket Code of Practice, introduced a year ago following a Competition Commission investigation into the biggest supermarkets.

The survey findings, based on the responses of 161 farmers and growers from the dairy, livestock, arable, and fruit and vegetable growing sectors, showed:

· Fewer than half of those responding (44%) were aware of the Code of Practice.

· More than half (58%) did not think the Code had made any different to the way supermarkets did business with them.

· Supermarkets currently covered by the Code were all cited as continuing practices identified as being of concern to the Competition Commission.

· Just over a quarter (26%) of farmers had been required to change transport or product packaging, without receiving compensation for additional costs; and 16% had to meet the cost of unsold or wasted products, although the product was not at fault.

· Many farmers said they were being paid the same or less than the price of production for their produce (eg. 52% of dairy farmers).

· Many farmers support the idea of new legislation to prohibit the unfair trading practices of the supermarkets, and for an independent regulator to oversee the way in which supermarkets do business with suppliers.

· About a third of respondents who had experience problems supplying supermarkets said that “fear of delisting” was their reason for not complaining.

The organisations responsible for commissioning the survey are calling on the Government to strengthen the Supermarket Code of Practice in line with the original recommendations made by the Competition Commission, and to impose this on supermarkets. The new code should be extended to cover farmers who supply supermarkets via an intermediary, such as a wholesaler or dairy. And the Government should appoint a new independent watchdog to ensure the new Code of Practice is effective.