17 November 2000
Farmers could sue vitamin makers

By Donald MacPhail

BRITISH farmers could be in line for a multi-million-pound pay-out if they win proposed legal action alleging price-fixing in the livestock vitamin market.

The National Farmers Union wants to hear from producers who believe their businesses were damaged due to being overcharged for vitamin supplements.

Last year, US courts found pharmaceutical companies Hoffman La Roche and BASF guilty of running a price-fixing cartel for selling vitamins.

The US department of Justice said French company Rhône Poulenc, was also involved in the conspiracy, but would not face charges as it had co-operated.

The companies control up to 95% of the global market animal feed vitamins.

A record fine of US$750 million (527m) was imposed and subsequent civil suit was settled at $900m for vitamin buyers of animal feed, foodstuffs and vitamin supplements.

On the back of this, another US action is taking place involving foreign plaintiffs who bought vitamins from UK subsidiaries of defendant companies.

London lawyers Mishcon De Reya have asked the NFU to appeal for suitable plaintiffs for a possible class action case.

Alan Thomson, NFU feeds adviser, said: “We want to discover if prices have been fixed, and if they have then obviously there needs to be some recourse.”

Ideally, he said, the union wants to hear from producers who bought vitamins directly from the big companies, and believe their businesses have suffered.

But the case would be more complicated if producers bought vitamins through compounders products, said Mr Thomson.