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New plea for supermarket Ombudsman

[Tuesday 03 November 2009]

The Government is under renewed pressure to appoint a long-promised supermarket Ombudsman after a two pronged attack from farmers and EU bureaucrats.

British farmers and market gardeners have been pressing for years for action to be taken against alleged threats and even blackmail from supermarket produce buyers who, they claim, can force them into bankruptcy by cancelling their contracts unless they reduce prices.

A voluntary agreement to pay fair prices for produce was reached some years ago but, according to farmers, the supermarket chains reneged on the deal within a matter of months. Since then, the NFU have been demanding the appointment of an Ombudsman with legal powers to enforce such agreements – but the Government has steadfastly refused to create such a role despite an investigation by the Competition Commission saying that some supermarkets were colluding to fix low prices.

The situation received a new boost last week, however, when the EU issued a new report demanding improvements in the food supply chain and the promotion of “sustainable and market-based” agreements between food producers and the mass retailers.

Says NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said: "This report echoes comments made by both the NFU and the Competition Commission about the problems in the supply chain and some of the actions that need to be taken to solve them.

"It reinforces the fact that there is no excuse for the government not to implement the Competition Commission's findings, particularly regarding establishing an Ombudsman. Experience has shown that for measures like these to give real value and benefit to consumers and farmers there needs to be an independent Ombudsman overseeing them."

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