FARMERS don't get much sympathy anywhere in the world. To believe them, the weather is always wrong and so are market conditions. As an incidental listener to BBC Radio's early morning Farming Today programme I have become bored, then angry, with the constant complaints about the way in which farmers, especially milk suppliers, claim that they are exploited by supermarkets. But it turns out that they have been right all these years.
Yesterday the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) revealed that Asda, Sainsbury's and Safeway had admitted they acted covertly to fix farm gate milk prices of some 5'000 farmers at an almost unprofitably low level and then to increase the costs of butter and cheese products in their stores. These three supermarkets, which admitted their practices when OFT began an inquiry, have been fined 116 million pounds between them.
Tesco and Morrison have also been accused but deny collusion; if the inquiry finds against them their fines will be higher.
It seems that only Waitrose and Marks & Spencer from among the big supermarket chains have played fair with their suppliers.
Although the collusion took place in 2002 and 2003 and we will be told that lessons have been learnt since then, the outcome is a blow to the reputation of British supermarkets and it leads one to wonder how widespread such practices are elsewhere.
At the moment food prices in Majorca seem to be rising even as you watch them. Are Spanish farmers benefitting or are they as right to grumble as their British counterparts?