THE AUSTRALIAN Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking seed retailing business Seednet, owned by agribusiness giant Landmark, to court for misleading claims in its advertising surrounding a barley variety.
It is believed to be the first time a seed distribution business has faced legal action on the grounds of making false or deceptive claims in information provided about a particular variety.
ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said the case revolved around claims made surrounding the performance of the Compass variety, in particular its fungal disease resistance and straw strength.
The ACCC alleges that Seednet made false claims about various aspects of Compass’s performance from December 2014 onwards.
Compass was developed by the former University of Adelaide breeding program and was designed as a replacement to the Commander variety, also distributed by Seednet.
The ACCC alleges that 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 the representations being made in fact sheets on the variety.
“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,” Mr Keogh said.
He said the issue of misleading marketing information had been raised with the ACCC by growers.
“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,” Mr Keogh said.
It is believed the ACCC was alerted to Seednet claims by multiple growers, although Mr Keogh said it was not the organisation’s policy to reveal such information.
There was widespread disappointment with the performance of Compass during the wet 2016 season in terms of its straw strength, with many reports of the crop lodging.
Landmark released a statement acknowledging it was aware of the ACCC action and said it was currently reviewing the ACCC claims.
While not commenting on the case itself, the Landmark statement stressed the ACCC claims did not cover the overall performance of the Compass variety but rather certain statements made by Seednet.
The ACCC claim has been lodged in the Federal Court.
The first stage in the legal process will see a date set for a preliminary hearing on the matter.