IFA calls for independent retail regulator to protect producers

Farmers’ organisation president meets EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan in Brussels

IFA president Joe Healy. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

IFA president Joe Healy. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The Irish Farmers’ Association president has called for the establishment of an independent retail regulator to help protect vulnerable producers in the food supply chain.

Joe Healy was in Brussels on Thursday where he met European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan ahead of a meeting of the agriculture committee of the European Parliament.

The committee was discussing a new European Commission proposal on retail regulation.

Mr Healy said he acknowledged the initiative by Mr Hogan “in prioritising the imbalance in the food supply chain and recognising the vulnerability of producers in it”.

“The introduction of a minimum common standard of protection across member states is to be welcomed, but this is only a first step in reining in retailers and re-balancing power in the food chain,” Mr Healy said.

“The current situation, where processors and retailers always make a margin while farmers are sometimes forced to produce at or below the cost of production, is totally unacceptable.”

Mr Healy noted the proposed new directive provided for the designation of “a public authority” for the purpose of enforcement.

“IFA’s experience is that an independent retail regulator with a specific remit is required, similar to the UK Grocery Code Adjudicator which has proved to be a game-changer.”

Mr Healy said that in Ireland this function was subsumed into the role of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, where its effectiveness was “lost”.

“The proposed directive holds up the UK model as best practice, and this is the model that the Irish Government must follow.”

The IFA president noted the Irish Grocery Goods Regulations 2016 introduced measures banning unfair trading practices, which were now to be outlawed at European level under the proposed directive.

“The single biggest issue for farmers is that they have no confidence in the CCPC to enforce the regulations. The establishment by the Government of a visible and active independent retail regulator would give confidence to suppliers that their complaints would be taken seriously and pursued,” Mr Healy added.

“The aim of the harmonisation approach being proposed, is to tackle a short list of unfair trading practices and to provide for enforcement powers to tackle the fear factor. In addition, it is proposed that the European Commission will establish a network of enforcement authorities, to allow for the exchange of best enforcement practices and a platform to discuss and improve the application of UTP rules.”

He called on the European Parliament to strengthen the legislation by adding other unfair trading practices so that producers had clear written contracts. He also said other measures should be inserted to tackle abuses by retailers including unsustainable discounting/below-cost selling and payment for retention or better positioning of shelf space.

Mr Healy noted the Commission’s proposals on unfair trading practices were to be followed by new legislation on transparency in the food chain.