Frustration as code of practice suffers delays
By Isabel Davies
THE governments attempts to get a better deal for farmers who supply supermarkets appear to have ground to a halt.
Farm leaders had hoped a code of practice regulating the relationship between supermarkets and farmers would be in place by the end of July. But Helen Lo, NFU head of food and marketing, said it was starting to look like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) wasnt taking the issue seriously.
Ms Lo said she understood the code of practice was sent by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to the DTI shortly after the general election in June.
But despite repeated inquiries she had been unable to confirm details of the code which is thought to have been drawn up over a period of months.
The NFU responded to an OFT consultation last year. But Ms Lo said the union was still waiting to hear whether its recommendations had been included in the final draft.
"The code of practice may not be on the top of the DTIs agenda but it is certainly at the top of ours. We are still getting calls from our members saying they are being asked to do things they shouldnt."
Lack of action
NFU president Ben Gill has written to Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt complaining about an apparent lack of action and absence of information.
Producers would only succeed if trading relationships were open and fair and conducted in a climate without fear or threat of commercial reprisal, he stressed.
Sandra Bell, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said she felt the code had been drawn up largely behind closed doors. It was unclear whether suppliers would be consulted any further on the issue. "This suggests it is something that is being decided with the retailers and not the suppliers it is supposed to be protecting."
The code was recommended last year after the Competition Commission ruled the relationship between supermarkets and farmers was distorting the market.
A DTI spokeswoman refused to speculate whether a code would be approved in weeks or months, saying only it would be "published in due course." *