Farmers want new food ombudsman to have powers of investigation

Ombudsman would enforce EU rules on food supply chains

The farming lobby has been  critical of food processors, who they claim have been setting unfair prices for farmers, particularly in the beef sector. File photograph: iStock

The farming lobby has been critical of food processors, who they claim have been setting unfair prices for farmers, particularly in the beef sector. File photograph: iStock

 

A public consultation has begun on the role of a proposed national food ombudsman, which would have powers to investigate unfair business and trading practices.

The Programme for Government committed to setting up a new authority called the National Food Ombudsman, in order to enforce new EU rules on food supply chains.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said the proposed new ombudsman office would bring more transparency to pricing and other parts of the supply chain.

In recent years the farming lobby has been highly critical of food processors, who they claim have been setting unfair prices for farmers, particularly in the beef sector.

The food ombudsman would have a role in monitoring, analysing and reporting on price and other market data.

The ombudsman would have powers to enforce incoming EU regulations, the Unfair Trading Practices Directive, and penalise breaches of the regulations.

In a statement on Monday, Mr McConalogue said: “I am fully committed to ensuring fairness, equity and transparency in the agricultural and food supply chain.”

Setting up the new food ombudsman office would be “an important step towards achieving that,” he said.

The public consultation run by the Department of Agriculture on the powers and remit of the proposed new ombudsman will run until May 26th.

“The outcome of this consultation will help to determine the principles and policies to be included in the new legislation and the powers to be assigned to the new office,” Mr McConalogue said.

Tim Cullinan, Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president, called for the new authority to be given “real teeth”, in order to hold food processors and retailers to account.

“We cannot have any foot dragging in getting an office set up. It must have full powers of investigation, the ability to make findings and the authority to impose sanctions,” he said.

“At present, farmers feel that processors and retailers are abusing their dominant market positions with impunity and that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has failed farmers,” he said.

“The recurring evidence of large retailers dominating the market with excessive buying power has to stop. This drives prices to farmers to non-viable levels, often below the cost of production,” Mr Cullinan said.

Last year an investigation by the CCPC concluded there was “no evidence of a cartel agreement” between beef processors, amid complaints from farming groups over low prices.

Tensions between processors and beef farmers came to a head in 2019, with farmers staging protests blocking the entrances to numerous meat plants for several weeks in the dispute over pricing.