‘This is a landmark day for European farmers’ – McGuinness

Irish MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, has stated that the publication of the EU Commission’s proposals on the banning of Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs) denotes a “landmark day” for farmers throughout Europe.

During today’s Agriculture Committee meeting in Brussels – at which EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan presented his legislative proposal on tackling UTPs – McGuinness delivered a speech on the extent of the problems faced by farmers, and small scale food producers, in the food supply chain.

The Midlands-North West representative – who has fought the case for legislation for a number of years – said the “abuse of power” by some large retailers has been largely concealed under “a cloud of fear”.

“It is a reality that has devastated primary producers who get the least from the price consumers pay for food; yet they do the lion’s share of the work and carry the greatest risks dealing with weather, nature and market volatility.

“UTPs are not only unethical business-to-business practices; they are devastating for food producers and threaten the very sustainability of the food supply chain and reduce consumer choice,” she said.

The UTPs to be banned under the forthcoming EU legislation are:
  • Late payments for perishable food products;
  • Last-minute order cancellations;
  • Unilateral or retroactive changes to contracts;
  • And forcing suppliers to pay for wasted or unsold products.

Other practices will be permitted only if they are subject to a clear and unambiguous upfront agreement between the parties.

The commission’s proposal also requires member states to designate a public watchdog to enforce the new rules and sanctions in case of proven infringement. Member states can also take further measures as they see fit.

‘Lifting the lid’

Speaking to the commissioner, and fellow European leaders, McGuinness also linked the proposal to the fodder crisis in Ireland, climate change and undue pressures on farmers.

She also credited the work of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner Hogan for responding to her calls for action.

“This is a landmark day; and I think that many of us don’t really realise how significant this is. It took a long time to persuade many people that this is the right thing to do.

“Because let’s face it; when we go into a supermarket it looks shiny and new and perfect – everything is there and we can choose.

What you are doing today is lifting the lid on the story behind our food supply chain. The difficulties for those that don’t have power, that don’t have choice – and the relentless pressures they face as producers to deliver that shiny, quality food to European consumers.

She said the directive is coming at “a critical time” – pointing to the current reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and its budgetary challenges.

“We have farmers in my own country who face a fodder crisis because of unprecedented weather conditions –  impacted I’m sure by climate change.

“And we have farm families that face incredible mental pressures at this stage,” she said.

A reliable source

McGuinness also referred to a recent AgriLand article on farm safety that highlighted the startling revelation that “Europe is being fed on the lives of 1,000 farmers every single year“. The article was written by our reporter Conor Finnerty.

“I’m going to send you a copy of this because we don’t collect statistics on the number of farmers that are killed on farms throughout Europe.

But a leading farm safety expert in Ireland said this week that this is the story behind our food supply chain.

“Your work commissioner, I hope, will bring some sense to what is happening, will stop the relentless pressures on farmers who are facing accidents and indeed death on their farms and will allow us to have a holistic food chain that is fair to everyone – particularly farmers.

“Because today it is not fair,” she said.