29 May 1998

West Country shows its anger at price disparity

By John Burns

JUNIOR farm minister Lord Donoughue and shadow farm minister, Michael Jack, were left in no doubt about the strength of farmers anger at the disparity between supermarket and farmgate prices when they visited the West Country.

But both insisted that prices and profits watchdogs were fine for former nationalised industries but not for supermarkets.

Devon NFU chairman, David Disney, said Lord Donoughue told south-west union leaders in a private meeting that farmings difficulties were predominantly due to lack of balance in the market-place. The way to address that was for farmers to co-operate with each other.

Mr Disney told members attending the Devon County Show that mutual trust between producers and retailers was needed.

"We have to be able to balance producers needs with consumers requirements. We need to establish far better marketing groups," he said.

Also at the Devon Show, Mr Jack promised that he would be inviting supermarket chairmen for discussions on the need for more effective communication between farmers and supermarkets. And he would be pointing out to them that the fact that supermarkets were very competitive and constantly watched each others every move resulted in undue pressure on the industries supplying them.

"Our role as the opposition is to act as a catalyst and to prick the consciences of the supermarket chiefs. Partnership is about sharing," he added.

Mr Jack, who is remembered in Devon from the time when as fisheries minister he met angry fishermen in the county and had flour thrown at him, was scathing about the reluctance of government ministers to visit Devon and meet its farmers.

"As a minister you have a responsibility to face the heat. It is wrong to hide away and avoid farmers questions. If someone is in trouble and wants comforting you put your arm around them.

"There is no arm around them. At the NFU AGM Jack Cunninghams speech listed his top priorities as consumers, food safety and animal welfare. Farmers do not appear on the Cunningham Richter scale." &#42