22 March 2000
Tesco calls off talks with protestors

By Donald MacPhail

TESCO has called off talks with the militant Farmers For Action group and refused to offer protesting dairy farmers a higher price for their milk.

Store representatives rejected a deal with the farmers, who started targeting Tesco distribution depots after milk prices fell to their lowest in real terms for 30 years.

Milk producers blockading Tesco depots demanded about 20pple. Currently they receive as little as 15ppl, while supermarket prices remain steady.

Tesco was under pressure to offer more for milk after Safeway and Waitrose said they would offer farmers a better deal if other retailers followed their lead.

But the supermarkets corporate affairs manager David Sawday said a price rise would not be offered to protesters because doing so would be illegal.

Mr Sawday said Tesco was no longer talking to the grassroots Farmers For Action group, which has been behind the depot blockades.

All future negotiations between the supermarket and milk producers would be conducted through the National Farmers Union, he added.

“We had a meeting with the group, but there was a disagreement on what had been discussed when we later exchanged minutes,” said Mr Sawday.

“They seem to think we talked about putting the price up, but that was never on the table.”

Colluding to push up the price of milk would be illegal under competition rules, said Mr Sawday. It not be commercially viable, nor what customers wanted.

“We will hold discussions with the NFU, who are elected representatives of farmers, not people who are involved in illegal actions against our depots.”

Tesco now faces the prospect of more picketing. But Mr Sawday said further action would be counter-productive and hit farmers not involved in the dispute.

Tesco has claimed the plight of dairy farmers has not been caused by retailers, but by the strength of the Pound, which has pushed down milk prices.

Mr Sawday said the store had already backed the farmers claim for compensation from the European Union to offset the strength of Sterling.