NFU calls on Government to prevent multiple retailers abusing their power

The NFU has called on the Government to do more to check on what it sees as an "abuse of power" by big retailers, following growers' complaints that some are using "bullying tactics" to maintain profits while cutting growers' prices.

Speaking at the Cucumber Growers' Association (CGA) conference at Peterborough, NFU chief horticulture adviser Philip Hudson said: "There is more the Government could do to check abuses of power by multiple retailers and others in the food business.

"The Competition Commission has recommended a new code of practice actively policed by a new ombudsman and that is a step in the right direction. If retailers are doing nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear.

"But in the past few weeks the big retailers have been prevaricating - some might say blocking its introduction. That should be evidence enough for the Competition Commission that it has made the right call, that its recommendations have hit the spot."

Hudson's comments echoed those of NFU president Peter Kendall in a speech he gave to the Cardiff Business Club in the same week (Grower, 28 November).

NFU horticulture board chairman Richard Hirst said European growers who supply the UK were also being squeezed by increases of more than 50 per cent in their transport costs. "With the pound still weakening, soon they will not be able to compete either," he said.

"The message (to retailers) is to beware short-term gain for medium to long-term pain. Once we get through this recessionary period our customers will want a secure, reliable supply which, if they carry on in the way they are at present, will not come from the UK."

- Hudson told the CGA conference he would like to see more public-funded support to increase availability of fresh produce.

He wanted the Government to consider introducing a scheme like that in New York which gives priority on market-stall pitches to those selling fruit and vegetables.

He said: "A $1.5m (£997m) fund is being used to encourage branded Green Stalls in places like rail stations, with a publicity campaign to encourage people to buy from them.

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