Farmers need to set up co-ops to help them stand up to the financial muscle of the major multiples, but are being thwarted by the Office of Fair Trading, according to NFU president Ben Gill. He said that after tax, currency differences and subsidies were stripped out of prices, farmers on the continent were being paid substantially more for their produce than British farmers, and that the reason was because of the marketing skills of continental farmers' co-ops. Co-ops also offered other benefits such as economies of scale, allowing farmers to strip out costs, he added. He told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton: "One of the things that infuriates me is when co-ops are swatted down by the OFT." Gill contrasted the situation in the UK, where Milk Marque was forced to break up, with Denmark, where one co-op controls 94% of the domestic market. He said: "The Danes don't think of it in those terms though. They see it as 6% of the European market. We can't have this parochial approach from the OFT which will demoralise members." Gill said co-ops were needed not only in the dairy sector but right across farming. They could help to take out costs, which benefited the entire food chain. Gill shared platforms with Defra secretary of state Margaret Beckett and junior minister Elliott Morley during the conference, and he said both ministers appeared supportive of the concept of co-ops. At another fringe meeting organised by the Co-operative Group, Beckett agreed that adopting the co-operative models pioneered elsewhere in Europe could be one solution to farmers' problems. "There are lots of things we can do in terms of exploring where there can be more added value that comes directly to the farmer. But a lot of that depends on different kinds of competitive working which is the source of the success you see elsewhere." {{NEWS }}