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Competition and collaboration: the law, food businesses and the public interest

14/04/11
Food Ethics Council
A report of the March 2011 meeting of the FEC’s Business Forum
Competition and collaboration: the law, food businesses and the public interest

Government looks increasingly to businesses to take the initiative in promoting sustainable and healthy diets. This works well where efficiency savings can be had, benefitting businesses and consumers. However, further progress requires the sector also to account for environmental and social externalities, thus raising prices, and to remove the least sustainable products from sale. Businesses face the dilemma of doing this alone, and losing customers, or collaborating with their competitors in potential breach of competition law for conspiring to raise prices or limit consumer choice.

The twenty-third meeting of the Food Ethics Council’s Business Forum discussed how to address this dilemma. Should government regulate instead of putting such responsibilities onto businesses? What mechanisms exist to ensure that companies can collaborate on publicly accountable sustainability and public health initiatives without fear of prosecution by the Office of Fair Trading?

We are very grateful to our speaker, Michael Hutchings OBE, a solicitor specialising in competition law. Helen Browning OBE, chair of the Food Ethics Council, chaired the event. A discussion paper circulated in advance of the meeting is available here.

Download a report of the meeting