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Nick Herbert pledges to support farmers and consumers against supermarkets which abuse their power

HERBERT NICK NW Shadow Defra Secretary Nick Herbert will today announce that a Conservative Government would create a supermarket ombudsman to prevent large retailers from abusing their market position to squeeze farmers' profit margins and act against consumers' interests.

It would be a unit within the office of Fair Trading and would be funded by a levy on the biggest supermarkets which have an annual turnover of more than £1 billion.

The announcement represents a hardening of the party's existing line, which was merely to support a soon-to-be-introduced code of practice for supermarkets.

The idea of an ombudsman has already been proposed by the Competition Commission, but the Government has so far dithered over whether or not to take it on board.

Mr Herbert will tell the Oxford Farming Conference:

"Supermarkets deliver real benefits but some aspects of the way they treat their suppliers can harm consumers as well as producers. We have a code of practice which outlaws practices such as retrospective discounting, but this isn't worth the paper it is written on without effective enforcement."

"We will introduce an ombudsman to curb abuses of power which undermine our farmers and act against the long-term interest of consumers. As the Competition Commission has made clear, failure to do so could result in reduced investment by suppliers, lower product quality, and less product choice, with potentially higher prices in the long run. It is time to act."

He will also repeat his pledge to introduce legislation "if the retailers won't act" to enforce honest food labelling which would allow consumers to know which produce is genuinely British.

Jonathan Isaby


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