8,000 farmers in protest march


ABOUT 8,000 farmers protested in Dublin yesterday over their treatment by retail chains and a raid by the Competition Authority on the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) headquarters.

The farmers met in Merrion Square, marched along St Stephen’s Green on to Dawson Street and Molesworth Street, led by 20 tractors.

They were told that the protest was a demonstration that farmers had the right to stand up for themselves and the IFA had the right to negotiate on their behalf, a right recognised by Government, in Brussels and in Irish law.

While their leaders heaped scorn on the new Government for failing to prioritise “fair trading” legislation, their ire was aimed at what they said was the failure of the Competition Authority to investigate the grocery and meat trade and low prices paid by retailers to producers.

The authority had raided the IFA offices a fortnight ago over an investigation into allegations of milk-price fixing.

To chants of “We want fair play”, IFA president John Bryan called on the Government to rebalance the power between producers, suppliers and retailers.

“If the Competition Authority fails to tackle the real cartel and price-fixers, Minister Bruton should abolish it as it is just another costly quango the taxpayers cannot afford.”

Describing the recent raid by the Competition Authority as “an outrageous attack on farmers and an attempt to criminalise them and undermine their rights”, Mr Bryan said the authority was going after the wrong target.

“Any law that protects retailers and criminalises farmers is wrong. Our competition law is flawed and the law must be changed,” he told the protesters, who filled the length of Molesworth Street from the Kildare Street junction.

“When is the last time 15 officers raided the supermarkets? Never. When did they ever seize the mobile phones of meat barons? Never. And when did they ever take computers off the retail multiples? Never,” he told the cheering crowd.

They heard that dairy farmers’ share of the retail price of liquid milk has fallen from 42 per cent in 1996 to 26 per cent in 2009, while consumers were paying 33 cents for an egg which was produced for 8 cents and 15 times more for a chicken than the production cost.

They said below-cost selling of farm produce was being funded by farmers, not supermarkets, and when farm produce prices dropped, the margins were not passed back to consumers.

A spokesman for Mr Bruton, whom the IFA claimed refused to meet it, said the Minister would meet IFA representatives, possibly within a week to discuss, a report on a code of practice for the grocery sector.

However, the spokesman insisted that holding talks about the Competition Authority raid would be inappropriate as the investigation was still continuing.

The Competition Authority took the unusual step of commenting on the search and the manner in which it was conducted.

“The search was part of an ongoing investigation by the authority into possible price-fixing in the liquid milk market and follows recent incidents involving the disruption by groups of farmers of normal business at a number of retail outlets,” it said.