Clive Beddall Nick Brown's food chain unity campaign suffered two embarrassing setbacks this week. The NFU gave a damning judgement on the government's proposed code of trading practice for the top five chains, and Safeway was forced to issue a statement condemning rumours that it was demanding cash from suppliers. NFU president Ben Gill, who is seeking an urgent meeting with OFT officials, argued: "The draft code is littered with problems, both generic and specific." The force of the NFU statement, particularly on "the problem" of supermarkets demanding contributions from suppliers, surprised the multiples. And it came as Safeway hit back at what it called "largely anonymous allegations and rumours being peddled in the trade concerning outrageous' demands for money". (See story below.) The controversy surfaced despite senior food industry executives' condemnation of Tony Blair's claim two weeks ago that the supermarkets had the farmers "in an armlock". But the NFU's reaction was all the more surprising given that its head of marketing, Helen Lo, recently accused Friends of the Earth of trying to drive a wedge between the farmers and the supermarkets when it criticised a leaked copy of the proposed code. In the event, the NFU's comments were remarkably similar to those made by Friends of the Earth. On Thursday, Lo insisted relationships between supermarkets and farmers have improved significantly in the past few years. But she went on: "However, there have been individual cases highlighted by our members which have compromised some of the good trading relationships we have established. For example, there have recently been complaints from growers that Safeway has been making requests for additional financial sums. All this has led the NFU to make efforts to ensure that the code must be taken seriously, must be effective, and fairly represent the interests of producers as well as supermarkets." We deplore anonymous allegations of this type' Safeway has slammed what it describes as "various and largely anonymous rumours being peddled in the trade" that it had made "outrageous" cash demands from its suppliers. The response followed rumours during IFE 2001 this week that the multiple was demanding unexpected "up-front cash payments." In addition, Robin Pooley, chairman of fruit producer organisation English Apples and Pears, complained to the NFU that he had been told by six suppliers that the multiple had asked them for cash sums ranging between £50,000 and £700,000. Pooley told The Grocer: "I am horrified and disgusted. This is an outdated tactic and no way to treat regular suppliers." However, Pooley added that none of the complaining firms wanted their identities revealed. Meanwhile, The Grocer understands that senior executives of the NFU and Safeway were discussing the allegations when we went to Press. Kevin Hawkins, Safeway's director of communications, said: "In principle we deplore anonymous allegations of this type ­ which have become an all-too-familiar feature of the grocery trade in recent years. "In this case there also seems to be evidence that these allegations have been fomented by one or two of our competitors. "As virtually all these alleged complaints are centred on part of the produce range, we have contacted several suppliers in this area. None has expressed any dissatisfaction or criticism of their business relationship with Safeway. "However, we are taking Mr Pooley's complaint very seriously and are looking into it. "Most fresh food suppliers have substantially increased their business with us over the past two years and we loook forward to another successful trading year. "If any supplier has an issue, we expect them to raise it with us direct ­ in the spirit of the forthcoming code of practice." {{NEWS }}