SIR, – I was once told by an old shepherd, if you see a rich man, ask not how did he make his money, ask who he made it from?

The same shepherd – a true gentleman – also said don’t be greedy, pay a fair price, take your piece and pass them on.

In the beef industry, we all know this has not been happening. My handful of cows contribute in a small way to the Scottish beef industry, but they still contribute.

I was mindful of writing this some two years ago, when a senior board member of a major processor let slip at Ingliston, beef prices would not be rising. Back then, beef was circa £4/kg and since then they have only gone downwards. How did he know?

I smell a rat. The SF's editorial comment and continued haemorrhaging of cash for most on finished cattle requires comment and regulatory investigation.

There are severe penalties for companies operating 'too co-operatively', or agreeing prices in advance. I have a hunch the price is being set by the retailers and the middlemen are acting accordingly.

The internet is a fantastic tool. Spend time on it if you can. Visit Companies House and The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more” ... to quote Monty Python. The CMA produce detailed guidance on competition, cartels and price fixing, including powers to investigate. They can enter any business premises and seize information.

In the UK, anti-competitive behaviour is prohibited under Chapters I and II of the Competition Act 1998 and may be prohibited under Articles 81 and 82 of the EC Treaty. Detailed information on this can be found in CMA document OFT435, Cartels and the Competition Act 1998.

In my view the CMA should investigate the Scottish and UK beef and red meat industry. Mainly to clarify once and for all whether, it is or is not, operating in a competitive and transparent manner.

If it is operating fairly and transparently, then significant probing questions need to be asked of the Scottish livestock industry. How do we continue? If not, then prosecutions should follow.

We all know there are too few middlemen between producer and consumer. Should cartel or price fixing activity be proven fines will likely run into the millions of pounds for those found in breach of competition laws.

The EU guidance for such fines is: Percentage of value of relevant sales (0-30%) x Duration (years or periods less than one year), plus 15-25% of value of relevant sales as additional deterrence for cartels.

If price fixing or cartels are operating in the red meat sector (and I say, if), then be ready to write some big cheques.

The Disgruntled Drover

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