Exclusive Clive Beddall NFU pleas for more consultation on the "flawed and ambiguous" code of trading practice for the top four multiples and their suppliers have been turned down flat by secretary of state for trade and industry Patricia Hewitt. And the minister has rejected calls for the code to be legally binding on all multiples by claiming she did not have the necessary powers. However, in a letter to NFU president Ben Gill, which The Grocer has seen, Hewitt says that suppliers with "persuasive evidence" to back trading grievances against the top four will be able to complain anonymously to the OFT, provided they do it through a trade association. NFU president Ben Gill claims the code fails to recognise a "dramatic size imbalance in the food chain". But Hewitt told the NFU: "The director general of the OFT will monitor the code's operation. If mediation fails to resolve a problem, or the issue falls outside the mediation procedure, he will investigate. "He will also investigate any concerns about pressure being put on suppliers not to use the independent mediation procedure. Recognising that individual suppliers may be unwilling to complain directly, the director general has said he will consider anonymous but persuasive evidence of non-adherence to the code submitted to him through trade associations." And after stressing that she could not extend the code to cover all multiples, she went on: "There is nothing to stop other supermarkets from voluntarily complying with the code or the supermarkets deciding to apply code principles to other aspects of dealings with suppliers." The NFU said it would be progressing its talks with the four main multiples about gaining a better deal for farmers. A spokeswoman added: "We want to be satisfied the code is being interpreted correctly, Should we get evidence that it is not, we will take the matter up with the OFT immediately." {{NEWS }}