Farmers and food producers seek fairness from retailers

Farmers and food producers throughout Europe are heaping pressure on national and EU authorities to take firmer positions on retail practices.

IFA national chairman Jer Bergin said Ireland’s next government must appoint an independent ombudsman to ensure the new grocery goods regulations are effective.

Under the regulations, which come into force on April 30, retailers will have to provide transparency and clarity in their dealings with suppliers, through contractual relationships.

“IFA is looking for a commitment in the next programme for government that a system similar to that in the UK, which is paid for by the retailers themselves, would be put in place here to regulate retailer behaviour,” said Mr Bergin.

“This would ensure that suppliers who are subject to unfair trading practices by retailers can have confidential, effective recourse to an independent ombudsman to investigate and pursue their case.

"IFA is concerned that the new Competition and Consumer Protection Commission will not be sufficiently focused on supplier interests to effectively pursue complaints.”

Meanwhile, French state authorities have searched the offices of Carrefour as part of an investigation into the retailer’s commercial practices.

The search came two days after the French government warned companies against squeezing further price cuts from farmers, according to news agency Reuters.

Just as has been seen in Ireland, French milk and meat producers have hosted repeated demonstrations at being forced to operate at a loss because of over-capacity and aggressive pricing pressure from retailers.

Carrefour said it is co-operating with the investigation of its commercial dealings.

“It is of utmost importance for Carrefour to apply current regulations and if mistakes have been made the company will take the necessary measures,” said the company.

In a joint statement, French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll and economy minister Emmanuel Macron warned retailers and the food industry not to push for lower prices from farmers and reminded them that companies found to have employed abusive trading practices could be fined up to 5% of their revenue.

The French government has no power to impose how much retailers and the food industry pay farmers, but it has increased the number of inspections being carried out by its competition, consumption and fraud directorate to check legally required contract negotiation procedures are being followed.

“In light of the current plight of French animal farmers, the ministers have made clear to the retail and food processing industries that it will not be acceptable that the 2016 commercial negotiations lead to lower prices, in particular for milk products,” said Mr Le Foll and Mr Macron in a joint statement.

Carrefour shares fell by 7% in the days following the search and are down 24% over the past three months.


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