Grocery code well overdue

Bags of carrots for 9c and broccoli for 6c, in December, and now four pints of milk for £1, in the UK, seem to be good news for consumers, and bad news for farmers.

Given the economic recession and austerity in many countries since 2009, cheaper food must be welcomed — but not at the expense of the primary producers.

Vegetable and potato grow-ers are especially vulnerable — along with small, family-run fruit-and-vegetable shop-owners.

But now it has emerged that consumers don’t greatly benefit either, at least not in Ireland. That’s the only conclusion from a comparison of food prices across Europe, which shows Irish food prices near the top.

Agri- economist Alan Matthews has looked at the Eurostat comparison of national prices, collected across Europe, for about 500 comparable food and drink products.

It shows that the most expensive food in 2012 was in the Scandinavian countries, in Austria and Luxembourg, and closely followed by Ireland.

There hasn’t been much change in the rankings since 2007, although it is welcome that food has become relatively cheaper in Ireland over the five years — perhaps a reflection of affordability and lower food industry costs in our bankrupt nation.

Further analysis bylysi sby Matthews indicates that Ireland seems to have relatively high food prices, even compared to the Scandinavian countries, when it is factored in that food is mostly zero-rated for VAT in Ireland.

Yet more proof that food is relatively expensive in Ireland begs a question of the Government here — why has the consumer protection and competition bill been languishing for five Oireachtas sessions on a supposed priori-ty list of urgent lawmaking, despite cross-party agreement on recommendations such as proper labelling of Irish produce, and a ban on below-cost selling?

The foot- dragging has delayed a statutory code of conduct for the grocery goods sector, and amalgamation of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority.

It has allowed freedom for the huge supermarket chains to abuse dominant positions, for example by attracting shoppers with unsustainable prices for fresh food, at the cost of food-producer and small-business jobs.

There was a recent glimpse of just how far removed the supermarket bosses are from the concerns of food producers when Tesco advertised their four pints of milk for £1 in the UK, with a picture of beef cattle grazing in a field.

This indicated that some supermarket bosses hardly know where the food they sell comes from.

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