The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has begun proceedings in the Federal Court against Landmark Operations Limited trading as Seednet for allegedly making false and misleading claims in a fact sheet for its barley variety known as ‘Compass’.
Seednet markets and distributes ‘Compass’ and ‘Commander’ barley to retailers and farmers across Australia under a licencing agreement with the University of Adelaide.
The ACCC alleges that, from at least December 2014 to December 2016, Seednet misrepresented Compass barley to farmers saying that it had better straw strength than Commander (an older variety of barley); had improved lodging resistance than Commander; and was better suited to early sowing, higher fertility paddocks and higher nitrogen rates than Commander.
By at least December 2014, Seednet had received information which made it (or ought to have made it) aware that Compass’ performance did not support these representations. The ACCC also alleges that, from at least January 2016 to December 2016, Seednet said that Compass had higher resistance to a disease known as ‘leaf rust’ than it actually did in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, SA and WA.
By January 2016, Compass had been rated very susceptible to leaf rust in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, and ranging up to very susceptible in SA under consensus ratings through the National Variety Trials program.
“We allege that Seednet knew, or ought to have known, that its representations in relation to Compass’ straw strength and leaf rust resistance were incorrect, but that it did not amend its fact sheet to correct these representations,” ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said.
Potentially misleading marketing of new varieties of agricultural produce is a key issue that has been raised with the ACCC by farmers.
“Farmers have told us they suffer harm as a result of misleading marketing because, without correct information, they assume or are incorrectly advised that other factors such as the weather are to blame when crops don’t succeed or perform in the way that has been represented by suppliers,” Keogh said.
“The sad fact of the matter is farmers often don’t have the time or money to pursue seed companies when products fail or don’t work in the way they should. Agribusinesses should be careful to ensure they have a proper basis for marketing the qualities of new agricultural varieties and that they do not misrepresent the properties or performance of new products. Any misrepresentations risk ACCC enforcement action,” Keogh said.