The chair of An Rialálaí Agraibhia (Agri-Food Regulator) office has said that the office cannot tackle below-cost selling of agri produce.

Joe Healy was speaking on the latest episode of Agriland’s AgriFocus podcast, where he said the new regulator also cannot get involved in pricing.

€2.5 million has been provided for the office of the Agri-food regulator, which is an independent body with an aim of ensuring fairness and transparency in the food supply chain.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has said that the office allows for price and market analysis functions and will become the state’s “enforcement authority” for implementing rules on unfair trading practices (UTPs).

Niamh Lenehan was appointed as the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Agri-Food Regulator office late last year and a board has been selected, which is chaired by former IFA president, Joe Healy.

Below-cost selling

Healy explained on the podcast that while agri producers might complain about below-cost selling, it is not an UTP and therefore not a practice which the Agri-Food Regulator can stop.

“There would be a lot of producers out there that below-cost selling is a big thing for them,” Healy said.

“There are two areas that we can’t get involved in… the legislation doesn’t allow us to get involved in, and one is in relation to price, and the other one is in below-cost selling.

“We would hope that any Unfair Trading Practices [UTPs] that would be involved in the process of below-cost selling, then we can get involved, provided that the producer contacts us and gives us the details.”

The chair said that the office cannot affect below-cost selling of agri-produce in large retailers “directly” but that indirectly, bringing more transparency to the whole food supply chain should help.

“We all know what consumers are paying. We all know what the farmer gets. It’s that grey area in the middle that we want to try and bring as much clarity and information to as possible,” he continued.

“And that’s in relation to once it leaves the farmer’s yard until it arrives on the shelf at the retailer and what the consumer pays,” he added

When asked if the regulator can get involved in any way where the reduction in price at retailer level is felt back along the chain and impacts on the supplier, Joe Healy said, only if it is due to UTPs.

“The key area there is how do you confirm that it’s an unfair trading practice? They [retailers] say that they’re taking the hit.

“But without a doubt, we all know that eventually falls back to the farmer, to the supplier, in the sense that the next time that they go back to do a deal… indirectly it’s factored into the price.

“But if there is an unfair trading practice anywhere along the line, I would urge the farmers and suppliers, and what constitutes a supplier, to look through the clauses, the black ones and the grey ones, to make sure that they are aware of, you know, what qualifies as unfair trading practices,” Healy added.

“But I want to be clear again, that in relation to setting prices and below-cost selling, the legislation doesn’t allow the regulator to get involved.”

He explained that one of the key goals of the Agri-Food Regulator is be to secure as much information as possible from retailers and processors.

“We’re not out to ‘get’ them. All we want to ensure is that there is fairness along the way,” Healy added.

You can listen to the full interview with Joe Healy by clicking here or searching for AgriFocus podcast or Agriland on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.