21 November 2001
NFU plays down vitamin cash hopes

By Donald MacPhail

FARMERS representatives have played down hopes that producers could be in line for compensation after vitamin companies received record fines for price-fixing.

On Wednesday (21 November) the European Commission fined vitamin companies 855m (532m) for a 10-year conspiracy to control the market

Hoffman-La Roche of Switzerland was fined 462 million and BASF of Germany 296m. Six other companies received smaller fines.

EU competition commissioner Mario Monti called the case the most damaging series of cartels the commission has ever investigated.

As the companies involved control 95% of the world animal feed vitamin market, the EU decision could prompt court action from European farmers.

Producers may seek to claim that their businesses were damaged through being overcharged for vitamin supplements.

But National Farmers Union deputy director general Ian Gardiner cautioned producers against getting their hopes up for the time being.

The decision by the EU Commission raises interesting questions which demand to be looked at, he said. But the NFU is not going to make any claims beyond that at this stage.

Competition experts said the EU case was similar to a probe by US anti-trust authorities that led to fines of US$750 million (529m).

This was followed by a civil suit against the vitamins companies that was settled at US$900m.

An attempt to involve UK farmers in a subsequent class action by foreign plaintives in the US came to nothing.

The commission ruling renders the issue more open to question, simply because it would be working under our own legal system, said Mr Gardiner.

But as few farmers buy vitamins direct from manufacturers they would have to take action against compounders. Detailed records would also be required.

The fine will go into the commissions budget.