n After a long wait that code has finally arrived ­ to an irritated, dismayed reception by many in the chain. Simon Mowbray and Anne Bruce report Disgracefully delayed", "arbitrary" and "almost not worth having" were just some of the comments levelled at the government's new supermarkets code of practice after it was unveiled on Wednesday. Eagerly awaited from many quarters, the blueprint for supermarkets' future dealings with their suppliers was supposed to usher in a new era of fair and transparent dealings along the whole of the supply chain. Prompted by a competition report last year which found a "climate of apprehension" among suppliers dealing with the big multiples, the demand for the code gained real momentum when prime minister Tony Blair, during the height of the foot and mouth epidemic, accused supermarkets of having suppliers in "an armlock". But judging by the reception so far, the new code is unlikely to settle the debate just yet. The ink had barely dried on secretary of state for trade and industry Patricia Hewitt's approving signature before her department was attacked by suppliers and farmers. The top four supermarkets seemed undisturbed by the supposedly new constraints about to be placed on them when dealing with suppliers. Under the code, which only binds the biggest four multiples ­ Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Safeway ­ supermarkets should enter into "mutually beneficial agreements" with suppliers, while any disputes will ultimately be settled by an independent mediator paid for by the retailers. Somerfield, which no longer has the minimum 8% share of the grocery market deemed necessary for a retailer to have "buyer power", is not covered. This immediately angered those who had fought for an across-the-board code, while the National Farmers' Union led a charge for an independent breakaway code as The Grocer went to press. It was not short of support, either, with Safeway's director of communications, Dr Kevin Hawkins, among those signalling there could be a willingness to get round the table with the farmers to discuss the issue. Even so, there was still widespread disappointment that the DTI had failed to get the job done without the need for further wrangling. Clare Cheney, director general of the Provision Trade Federation, branded the code "toothless", and was among those to take particular exception to the vaguely defined "reasonable" nature that all contracts between supermarket and supplier should have. "A supplier's idea of what is reasonable is different to a supermarket's," said Cheney. "This code is almost not worth having at all so the government has failed. "We asked for the code to be extended to all retailers and it is absolutely disgraceful it has taken so long to come through with so few changes." John White, director of the Federation of Bakers, which has long criticised multiples for selling below cost, said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the "lightweight" code. The Food and Drink Federation was among a minority of trade bodies to cautiously welcome the code, although it, too, pointed out that the acid test will be how the code actually operates. Spokeswoman Jackie Dowthwaite said: "Let's face it, the code was never going to please everyone. "We would have liked to see it tightened up, and still feel it's a little woolly in places, even though we've had meetings with the OFT and responded to their consultations. "But our view now is that we've got to make the code work." That view was shared by Sainsbury's assistant managing director, Stuart Mitchell. He said: "We have been happy to be involved in the drafting of this code of practice and look forward to discussing this final version." Meanwhile, Co-op head of corporate affairs Bill Shannon accused the government of "ignoring the views of businesses like ours" and claimed the organisation was "disappointed" not to be included under the code. A spokesman for Somerfield said the company would comply with the code and said the 8% market share cut-off point was "arbitrary". Consumer groups also joined the debate, representing shoppers who are likely to be dumbfounded by the ongoing spat between retailers and suppliers. Phil Evans, principal policy adviser at the Consumers' Association, said: "We share the disappointment of many suppliers that the code of practice is too weak." The debate is set to continue ­ heatedly. {{NEWS }}