13 March 2001
Supermarkets deny weakening code

By Alistair Driver

SUPERMARKETS have rejected accusations that they are trying to water down a legally binding code which aims to ensure that they treat farmers fairly.

Tesco spokesman David Sawday denied that a leaked draft copy of the code drawn up with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) shows it has been weakened.

Mr Sawday said Tesco wanted the code to protect farmers, by ensuring that all transactions were bound by written contracts.

“We have welcomed the move towards a legal code of practice that puts the relationship between supermarkets and suppliers on a transparent basis,” he said.

The code would prevent payments from be negotiated retrospectively, and stop supermarkets from changing the specifications of their order at short notice.

Safeway spokesman Kevin Hawkins said the OFT would take into account the concerns of farmers and suppliers before settling on a final code of practice.

“There has got to be a degree of flexibility and the OFT understands that.”

Mr Hawkins insisted that written contracts would ensure that retailers could not change prices and specifications after they have been agreed with farmers.

“If there is disagreement between parties there will be an independent mediator to sort it out. This will happen,” he said.

Asda told FARMERS WEEKLY that its own code already protected farmers. But the Sainsburys press office failed to return a phone call.

Nevertheless, Friends of the Earth insists that a leaked copy of the draft code shows that the code of practice is “weasel-worded”.

The pressure group wants Prime Minister Tony Blair to use his influence to ensure that a document with real teeth is drawn up with the supermarkets.

The Farmers Union of Wales said that the foot-and-mouth crisis showed why farmers needed protection from Britains big supermarket retailers.

Arwyn Owen, the unions deputy director of agriculture policy echoed concern that supermarkets are trying to water down the code.

“Prices quoted to farmers for beef, lamb and pork are in many cases lower than they were prior to the crisis,” he said.

“We demand nothing less than a stringently enforced code that ensures supermarkets no longer wield their massive buying power to force prices down.”