PROBABLE European Parliament candidate for this region Mairead McGuinness MEP has called on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton to look at the experience in the UK of tackling unfair practices in the food supply chain and take similar action in Ireland.
Addressing a seminar in the European Parliament, the MEP said that actions by individual member states in the EU to tackle problems in the food supply chain, which deny farmers a fair return for their effort and produce, need to be enhanced by action at the EU level.
"Already member states are tackling the problem individually and in different ways, but from a farmer’s perspective we need better co-ordination at EU level,” Ms McGuinness said.
The UK Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, who addressed the seminar, pointed out that among suppliers to the major multiples in the UK there is ‘incredible fear’ and that she is building trust among suppliers in order to gather information and evidence of where the groceries supply code of practice is being broken.
This UK code regulates interaction between the ten largest supermarkets in the UK with annual turnover of €1 billon and their direct supplies and is designed to root out unfair practices which negatively impact on suppliers and which on an individual level they are powerless to resist.
"The appointment of an adjudicator in the UK should spur other member states including Ireland to take a similar approach,” McGuinness said.
"However, Irish suppliers to the UK market experiencing unfair practices can use the office of the adjudicator to have their complaints heard.”
Specifically, a number of practices are banned under the UK code including payment for shelf space, predominant funding of promotions and lump sum payments.
"The UK has taken a significant step forward in appointing an adjudicator to police the system and to take complaints from anyone in the food supply chain who has a legitimate complaint to make,” she continued.
"The UK adjudicator has significant powers of investigation. However, she is working firstly with the code compliance officers in the ten supermarkets involved to ensure compliance with the code.
“What is important is that Christine Tacon has the power to investigate and impose severe sanctions where the code is not observed by the supermarkets.
“Ms Tacon said the code is widely broken at the moment, despite being in place for three years and that as adjudicator she is prepared to go ‘straight for the jugular’ to make sure that supermarkets comply with the code.”
At EU level, a voluntary code of conduct by retailers and others in the food supply chain has been agreed but without the involvement of farmers, who stood back from the initiative because of a series of concerns about the code, including anonymity around complaints, sanctions and monitoring of implementation.
"Legislation at EU level is essential to make sure that the code works and is implemented across the board for the benefit of the food supply chain, producers and consumers,” Ms McGuinness added.