Sunday, July 21, 2024

UK consumers seek £382m from salmon producers in price-fixing case

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A legal firm is seeking £382m on behalf of British consumers from some of the world’s largest salmon producers, which are accused of price fixing.

Legal action filed this week at the Competition Appeal Tribunal said UK consumers overpaid for at least four years because of alleged breaches of competition law by the fish firms Mowi and its subsidiary Mowi Holdings, SalMar, Lerøy, Scottish Sea Farms and Grieg.

In January this year, the European Commission issued a preliminary ruling that the Norwegian-owned producers Lerøy and SalMar, which jointly own Scottish Sea Farms, as well as Grieg, Mowi and two other producers, Cermaq and Bremnes, had breached competition rules by colluding on the sale of Atlantic salmon in Europe between 2011 and 2019.

Senior executives at those companies allegedly planned to rig prices via email correspondence, and at various meetings and “working dinners”.

The action, filed by the legal firm Simmons and Simmons, claims that the alleged cartel’s behaviour drove up the price of farmed Atlantic salmon by as much as 20% above the levels it would otherwise have been. Millions of consumers who bought the salmon for personal consumption between October 2015 and May 2019 are eligible to join the action.

Anne Heal, the former director of regulatory affairs at BT, has been appointed as head of Waterside, a group set up to lead the claim. She previously headed the Thames Water customer challenge group, an independent body that represents the interests of the utility firm’s customers.

Heal said: “This action claims that some of the Atlantic salmon farming industry’s biggest companies have conspired to raid the wallets of hard-working shoppers.

“This action aims to seek fair redress for the millions of British consumers who we say spent years overpaying for one of the UK’s favourite and highly nutritious foods.”

The proceeding is being funded by Erso Capital, a litigation funder, and the action is insured. Class members will not be at risk of paying any fees or the defendants’ costs if the proceedings are unsuccessful.

The action on behalf of British consumers comes after solicitors acting for seven UK supermarkets, including Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and the Co-op, instructed lawyers to seek £675m in compensation for losses arising from the alleged salmon price-fixing by their suppliers named in the EU preliminary finding and Scottish Sea Farms. That claim was filed at the Competition Appeals Tribunal in February.

In May last year, several of the companies – Mowi, Grieg, Lerøy, SalMar and Cermaq – agreed to pay £67.2m ($85m) to settle a three-year class action by clients in the US over the same price-fixing claims.

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In December, Mowi, SalMar, Grieg Seafood, Cermaq and Lerøy agreed to pay more than £3m to their customers, including retailers, in Canada.

Mowi said it has not been involved in any anti-competitive conduct and believed the allegations in the Waterside case were unfounded.

Grieg Seafood said it had not yet received the latest lawsuit but denied any anti-trust infringements or anti-competitive behaviour and said it would “exercise all our rights of defence”.

The other four producers have been approached for comment.

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