Suffolk: Local food campaigner welcomes move to create supermarket watchdog

A SUFFOLK local food campaigner has welcomed a Government commitment to create a supermarket watchdog, as outlined in the Queen’s Speech.

Lady Caroline Cranbrook said it was a move that was in everybody’s interest and would ensure problems between supermarkets and suppliers are nipped in the bud.

Andrew George, the MP who has led a decade long campaign to protect farmers and growers from what he has described as the “bully boy behaviour of supermarket buyers” also welcomed the news.

The Liberal Democrat MP for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Constituency of St Ives chairs the Grocery Market Action Group (GMAG) which has pressed for action and welcomed the announcement that the Government will now proceed with a Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill.

Proposals for a supermarket watchdog followed two reports by the Competition Commission published in 2000 and 2008. Both highlighted the transfer by supermarkets of ‘excessive risk and unexpected costs’ to farmers, growers, and suppliers.

They warned that if action was not taken these practices would “have an adverse effect on investment and innovation in the supply chain, and ultimately on consumers”.

A Code of Practice governing fair business practices in the supply chain was introduced in February 2010 but GMAG argued that without a watchdog there was no one in place to ensure the new rules are enforced.

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GMAG includes in its membership the National Farmers’ Union, the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland, the British Independent Fruit Growers Association, Friends of the Earth, ActionAid, Traidcraft, the Association of Convenience Stores, and others.

Lady Cranbrook described the long-awaited decision as “very good news”.

“It should not be a burden to them (the supermarkets) if everybody behaves themselves. I think relations are so much better between supermarkets and their suppliers but undoubtedly there are cases where it’s not right.

“As always with any business it’s very important to have a fallback if problems do arise. You have to have an independent person to sort things out, otherwise it creates bad blood and rumours.”

She added: “It’s to the benefit of everybody if there are problems for things to be sorted out.”

Mr George said: “The code is fine. But it’s like having a game of rugby with a rule book, but no referee. So the code needs an adjudicator.

“The progress of this long campaign has met with constant opposition from some of the large supermarkets but I think they should embrace this move – if they have nothing to hide then they will have nothing to fear.

Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “This measure is long overdue - supermarkets have been abusing their power for years by limiting customer choice and squeezing the life out of farmers by paying them too little.

“The Government must now act quickly - a strong watchdog is needed to loosen the supermarket stranglehold and give us all a fairer and less damaging food system.”