Supermarket price abuse inquiry making progress, says Hogan

EU agricultural commissioner says 2016 will be ‘year of action’

Eva Nolan (7) from Wexford with  EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan  at a farm safety demo at the Macra stand at the National Ploughing Championships. Photograph: Pat Moore.

Eva Nolan (7) from Wexford with EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan at a farm safety demo at the Macra stand at the National Ploughing Championships. Photograph: Pat Moore.

 

EU agricultural commissioner Phil Hogan has said “significant traction” is being gained to ensure supermarket chains do not exploit farmers by paying below the cost of production prices.

Mr Hogan said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address last week was concentrating the mind of commissioners with responsibilities in the sector. Mr Juncker spoke of the need to “break some retail oligopolies”.

Speaking at a media briefing during the National Ploughing Championships, Mr Hogan said the speech has had a “significant impact”.

Allegations of price abuse by supermarkets are being investigated in both the UK and Spain. The study will determine whether or not legislative proposals are necessary on a European-wide basis to give fairness to producers.

Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness is doing a report for the European Parliament which will be available in February. “We’re working with the institutions to ensure that 2016 will be the year that we can take some action,” Mr Hogan said.

“I’d like to see fairness to the producer because, if you don’t have a producer, you don’t have a product. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been respected by other actors in the food chain.”

The European Commission has introduced a €500 million package of measures to deal with price volatility in the dairy and pig meat sector across the European Union. The commission expects that all the measures which have been taken to compensate farmers for the drop in commodity prices in both sectors will be done by the end of October.

Next Thursday, member states will be making presentations to top up what is in their national envelopes from the commission to deal with price volatility across the farming sector.

Mr Hogan conceded there was a cash flow issue with farmers across the EU, “not least in Ireland”, and two measures have been brought in. A cash envelope of €13.7 million has been agreed for Ireland which can be topped up by the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

In addition some 70 per cent of advance payments from the EU are being brought forward which will give farmers €250 million extra in cash flow between now and the end of the year. “You will see that opportunity being grasped by the farmers at the National Ploughing Championships who want to buy equipment.”

Mr Hogan acknowledged the problems across the pig meat sector caused by a high level of investment and therefore indebtedness. He advanced the idea of a private storage scheme for pigment “at the right time”.

When asked about the ban on pig meat products going to Russia which was caused a lot of hardship across the EU for pig farmers, Mr Hogan said €5.2 billion in exports to Russia since last August have been lost, but €6.8 billion worth of pig meat exports have been directed elsewhere most notably to the Philippines.

When questioned as to when the ban on pig meat exports to Russia might be lifted, Mr Hogan responded: “Ring Mr Putin about that. He has a role to play in this. He’s the one who caused the problem. We have to respond in solidarity with European Union in relation to the impact from an agricultural point of view.”

Mr Hogan deflected questions about his previous role as the Minister for the Environment in setting up Irish Water. He disagreed that he left Irish Water in a mess. “I introduced what was required under the Troika. You’ll have to ask the Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly about the rest.

“I’m European Commission for Agriculture and everywhere I go there is a demand for more resources to be made available to provide better quantities and quality of water,” he said.