22 December 2000
Call for probe into farm assurance

By Isabel Davies

THE Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has asked the Office of Fair Trading to investigate whether farm assurance schemes breach competition law.

The FSB is arguing that the schemes may be unlawful because they discriminate against farmers who do not join them.

It claims that farmers are being forced to join assurance schemes to sell their produce.

But it also believes the existence of the schemes provides no guarantee of quality for the consumer.

The organisation claims the primary reason for their existence is to improve retailers image and allow them to force down prices paid to suppliers.

Donald Martin, FSB UK policy unit chairman, said: “Many farmers are being bullied into these schemes because of the leverage supermarkets possess.

“At the heart of our complaint is that not only are these schemes anti-competitive, but that they do not provide any assurance of quality for the consumer.”

The FSB is also concerned that joining a scheme means a lot of extra red tape for farmers. It estimates the related costs to be about 3000 per farmer.

A National Farmers Union spokeswoman said that assurance schemes were voluntary, and many farmers signed up because they could see clear benefits.

“Farm assurance schemes have been launched by British farmers to demonstrate to consumers the high standards of production,” she said.

“They operate in the public interest.”

It is not the first time that the FBS has made an attack on assurance initiatives.

In September 1997 the FBS made a compliant to the European Commission concerning the Assured Combinable Crop Scheme (ACCS).

But following a full investigation the Commission decided there were insufficient grounds for action at a European Union level.