Supermarkets will bring down the supply chain unless they change their behaviour and sign up to a retailer ombudsman, the NFU has warned.
Speaking at the last-ever Royal Show in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, NFU president Peter Kendall said supermarkets had been offered the chance to show their support to farmers by agreeing to a voluntary code of practice.
And while some retailers had taken steps to show they supported agriculture, not enough of them had shown their full support by backing ombudsman plans.
“Supermarkets have been successful but if they carry on this way for much longer they will bring down the supply chain,” Mr Kendall said.
“Supermarkets have been offered a chance and they haven’t taken it.
“Why aren’t they prepared to do it? Some says it’s cost, but even if it cost them £5-6m that’s less that 0.005% of their turnover.
“In farm income terms, that’s the equivalent of one jar of marmite a year.”
Mr Kendall said the calls for a retailer watchdog were not just coming from suppliers.
“An overwhelming majority of consumers are also saying they’re concerned about retailer’s treatment of small businesses,” he said.
“Unless the supermarkets change tack the Competition Commission will refer this to the department of business.
“I really hope that DEFRA will realise how important this is to the many small suppliers.
“We need to know that DEFRA is in there supporting the suppliers whose products are on the supermarket shelves.”
Acknowledging that few people in agriculture were in favour of more legislation, Mr Kendall said voluntary codes of conducts had not “done the job” in terms of retailers relationships with small suppliers.
“We have only got to look at what’s happened in the financial sector to see how leaving big players unregulated can backfire to all our costs,” he said.
“We cannot risk that with our big food supplies.”