Curb supermarkets’ power, say farmers

FARMERS are calling on the next government to stop the big supermarket chains from keeping prices to producers unfairly low.

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) is seeking pledges from election candidates that they will introduce a statutory code of practice and an independent supermarket ombudsman to stamp out what it claims are abuses by the big name supermarkets of their dominant position.

The organisation is also calling on candidates to commit to fighting any attempt to lift the cap on the size of retail stores as they say the bigger the outlet, the greater the scope for manipulating prices.

Detailing his election demands yesterday, IFA president John Bryan said the impression that shoppers benefited when supermarkets paid low prices to farmers was wrong. “They can reduce prices to the producer by four or five times more than to the consumer and pocket a huge margin in between.”

One example from last year was when farmers were getting €1.38 per kilo for pork while shoppers were paying an average of €9 per kilo.

“What we are talking about is everybody getting a fair price and nobody getting ripped off. It’s in the interest of both farmers and consumers that the power of the retailers is curbed.”

Mr Bryan said the long-term effect of paying low prices to farmers, which in some cases did not cover the cost of production, was that farmers ceased producing. “Then you have to import at whatever prices producers overseas charge and everyone loses out.”

Farmers are also worried about a clause in the EU/IMF bailout that requires the government to reconsider legislation that effectively prohibits the opening of so-called hypermarkets.

Retiring Fianna Fáil TD and former junior agriculture minister Ned O’Keeffe said he didn’t know how the issue had come to be included in the bailout negotiations but warned it would leave farmers even more vulnerable to the power of the retailers.

“If you raise the size of stores it also means less employment in local areas because they need less workers per €1,000 of turnover. It should be deleted by any new government.”

The IFA is also seeking commitments from candidates that they will oppose a proposed trade deal between the EU and South American countries that would see imports of beef compete with European producers. Other demands include ruling out any further carbon tax increases and a commitment to fight for the retention of the Single Farm Payment farming subsidy when the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is renegotiated in 2013.

Some 250,000 people are employed in agriculture and the industry is worth about €23 billion annually.

Mr Bryan said the message had to be received by the next government that the sector was vital to efforts to rebuild the country’s economy.

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