Jamie Oliver is aware of the campaign by Australian farmers.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is aware of the storm of protest surrounding Woolworth's moves to charge farmers for its latest fresh food campaign.
Vegetable farmers are angry the supermarket firm is charging them a new fee of 40¢ a crate to fund the Jamie's Garden advertising campaign on top of an existing marketing levy. One large supplier told AUSVEG that it faced paying $300,000 over the six-week campaign, while many smaller struggling farmers said the extra charge squeezed their "wafer-thin" profit margins.
AUSVEG sent a letter to Jamie Oliver's London office on Tuesday asking him to use his influence and compel Woolworths to remove the fee. They also asked him to “implore the retailer to refund growers' contributions”, which they claim is well over a million dollars.
Mr Oliver's publicity manager did not confirm whether he had received the letter, but said the chef was aware of "the various things being said".
"At the end of the day, Jamie supports anyone who is prepared to help promote better food education and better nutrition," said his publicity manager Peter Berry in London.
"And in this case that means Woolworths and the many farmers and growers who have signed up for this important initiative to whom Jamie is very grateful."
In a promotional video posted last month on YouTube by Woolworths, the chef said his partnership with the supermarket involved “looking at standards and ethics of where our food comes from”.
AUSVEG spokesman William Churchill said Oliver "seems like a reasonable man".
“I doubt Jamie is the kind of person who would want to adversely affect farmers. If he sees this is being levied unfairly on growers, he could ask serious questions, and possibly compel them to give the money back to growers."
Camilla Speirs, from Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia, said the chef supported "those people who provide Australians with fresh food and vegetables". She declined to comment on the farmers' complaints. “He’s a man of the people, and wants to be able to work with everyone,” she said.
AUSVEG has lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. A spokesman said the commission would “carefully consider any concerns raised".
Woolworths defended the extra levy, saying half its suppliers had opted to pay the voluntary fee. It refused to say what percentage of the advertising costs would be covered by the farmers’ contribution.
But Mr Churchill said apart from asking them to pay for the ads, Woolworths did not provide information on how farmers would benefit from them, the expected return on investment, or the breakdown on how the money would be spent.
He also said many farmers felt they had no choice but to take part, in fear of jeopardising their contract with Woolworths.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon threw his support behind the farmers, saying he will send a separate letter to Mr Oliver urging him to meet farmers and industry groups.
“I've put up a bill in the Senate that basically says if a company has abused its market power, in any sector, then there ought to be the power for the court to break up that company as part of the penalty involved," he said.
“Now that power exists in the US, it exists in Europe, it exists in other developed countries around the world, but it doesn't exist here in Australia.”
It comes after the ACCC took court action against Coles, claiming it engaged in unconscionable conduct to boost profits