IT’S GLOVES OFF AS ASDA THREATENS FFA WITH ACTION By Isabel Davies
SUPERMARKET ASDA has shocked dairy producers by threatening legal action against 28 Farmers For Action members involved in protests outside its distribution depots.
But Farmers For Action chairman David Handley has told farmers weekly that the threats have left members undeterred and the group has “virtually decided” that it will be protesting again shortly.
“We feel that if it [Asda] wants to go ahead with action then it can. If that is what it takes to show that farmers are struggling to make a living then so be it,” he said.
Mr Handley added that he believed Asda was the right target for action, even though the supermarket claims it is not. This was because its decision to make Arla its sole supplier had set off a chain of events in the milk market that had hit producers hard, he said.
Solicitors acting on behalf of ASDA, which is owned by the world’s largest reatiler Wal-Mart, have sent letters to 28 FFA members which explain that unless they stop protesting at Asda sites, legal proceedings will be started.
The letters, delivered by courier last Friday (Nov 19), claim the farmer protests are causing Asda significant disruption and losses. They warn that unless protests cease the supermarket will take out an injunction against the farmers and may sue them for any losses incurred.
A spokesman for the retailer said the letters were a last resort and added that it was unfair of Mr Handley to suggest that Asda was using bully-boy tactics by sending them.
“We’ve been talking to FFA for months now about milk prices, but we are the only major supermarket to back up our words with actions,” he said. “Only recently we announced that the price we pay for our milk will increase by 0.5p/litre. By contrast, other retailers continue to pay less.
“The frustration we have is that we have guys protesting that are not supplying Asda. We don”t have a relationship with the 14,000 dairy farmers who don’t supply us with milk.”
Commenting on the situation, NFU Scotland’s communications director James Withers said the union believed protests at best provided short-term relief, but many dairy farmers felt that they were their only course of action.
But he added: “Farmers are already operating in a supply chain dogged by mistrust and suspicion and threats of legal action by supermarkets will only make a bad situation worse.”
Tom Hind, NFU chief dairy adviser, said he had not been provided with a copy of the solicitor’s letter, but he did not think it was in anyone’s interests to inflame passions further. “We want an industry where people can be profitable.
We don’t want an industry where people fight like cat and dog.”