Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 12:54 UK

Price warning on farmers' markets

By Kevin Peachey
Consumer affairs reporter, BBC News

Shoppers at farmers market in London
Some operators insist on stallholders identifying their produce's provenance

Shoppers at farmers' markets are paying over the odds as they are confused by the source of “local” produce, a survey has claimed.

Nearly eight in ten people asked were unaware of the guidelines for classifying locally-sourced foods, trading standards officers found.

An industry body defines local as preferably within a 30-mile radius or 50 miles if in a city or remote area.

Farmers' markets have surged in popularity in recent years.

The number of farmers' markets in the UK has tripled since 2001, according to the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association (Farma).

‘Paying a premium’

Officers fear that some consumers are paying a premium for produce under a misguided belief that they are helping local producers.

Oxfordshire Trading Standards conducted a survey of nearly 1,000 farmers market customers which found 77% were unaware of the guidelines.

You will find so-called local farmers markets selling olives and lemons, which are conning the consumer who could buy them at a supermarket down the road
Laura Waterton, National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association

Nigel Strick, head of the body, said some traders had been selling food bought from the fruit and vegetable wholesale market at Covent Garden in London, or from suppliers hundreds of miles away such as in Somerset.

The study had been prompted by complaints from customers who said they were misled into paying higher prices.

A 2006 survey found that only one in five people estimated that a "local" producer could live 30 miles or more away from the market.

Voluntary code

Farmers' markets have become popular across the UK as consumers pay greater attention to cutting food miles for environmental reasons.

There is no tested legislation that stipulates the classification of local produce, although there is a general regulation that goods should not be misdescribed.

Farma is promoting the 30-mile definition and some areas insist on stallholders declaring where their produce is from.

Oxfordshire Trading Standards is calling for a national voluntary code of conduct, policed by local market associations, to offer consistency to customers.

It is also lobbying the Food Standards Agency to include the Farma definition in advice to producers.

Laura Waterton, of Farma, said there were an estimated 500 to 600 farmers' markets in the UK, half of which were accredited by Farma.

“You will find so-called local farmers' markets selling olives and lemons, which are conning the consumer who could buy them at a supermarket down the road,” she said.

She said there were some exceptions to the definition, such as a 100-mile radius around London.

Ultimately, market organisers had the power to throw traders off markets for misleading customers, she said.




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