Sir; The compilers of the OFT’s conclusion that the current supermarkets code of practice should remain unchanged are either guilty of unforgivable naiveté or deliberate obfuscation.
If that is the best they can do, then it simply is not good enough. Supermarket dominance is the key issue that has caused farmgate prices to fall to unsustainable levels and forced farm businesses up and down the country to the wall.
The OFT said that it was not for them to “shield suppliers from hard bargaining driven by supermarket competition”.
We wouldn’t mind if there was some bargaining, but farmers have no bargaining power in this process. Farmers have to take the price they are given.
Unlike other sectors, including those which supply farming with inputs, in farming it is impossible to use the cost of production as a basis for establishing prices.
I talk to farmers every day and they ask me how long they are going to have to accept prices for their goods much below the cost of production. This is unsustainable, whichever way you look at it. It’s not just prices. With all contract terms, farmers are often left in a ‘take it or leave it’ scenario. As supermarket profits boom, farming profits are non-existent.
It is amazing that - in the face of rampant criticism about the current code from groups representing farmers, consumers, environmentalists and local communities - the OFT can conclude that nothing is wrong. Its staff need to get out onto farms so that they hear the real stories. Of course farmers are frightened of complaining publicly for fear of losing any hope of selling their goods. This is the extent of the arm-lock within which supermarkets are holding farmers.
The Prime Minister has recognised it, so why can’t the OFT? Perhaps it’s time for the Prime Minister to appoint a body which does - and is prepared to leave its comfort zone to do something about it.