A GROCERY ombudsman was this week called for, to help local food suppliers and farmers who are too scared to complain about supermarket tactics.

The demand for an independent watchdog was made by the Country Land and Business Association.

Dorothy Fairburn, the CLA's Yorkshire regional director, said many smaller food suppliers were in danger of being squeezed out of business while the grocery goliaths made huge profits.

"Shoppers will lose out too, because there is a growing demand for locally produced food," she said.

Miss Fairburn said supermarkets subscribed to a Code of Practice which was meant to offer ways for suppliers to seek redress if they felt they were being unfairly pressurised. "But, in reality, our farming and food producing members are too scared to use the code for fear of being told they are no longer listed by the major chains as a supplier," she said.

"We accept that a supermarket which is the subject of a complaint has to know who is complaining, but to counter the fear factor of being de-listed we are suggesting that successful complainants are offered post-complaint protection."

However Miss Fairburn said the real solution to the supermarkets' continuing stranglehold had to be the appointment of an independent ombudsman.

"These grocery goliaths are maximising their profits while forcing smaller suppliers to cut their margins until it is almost pointless being in business," she said.

The CLA's plan has been sent to Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt.