Calls for a food regulator/ombudsman were made by numerous delegates at the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) annual general meeting (AGM).

In response, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, said that a national food ombudsman is a “particular priority” of his.

He told the AGM that this is “well advanced” and will be an office with “real teeth”.

IFA president, Tim Cullinan said that farmers were, rightly, asking where that regulator is, adding that the Minister McConalogue said that there would be one by the middle of last year.

“And, we’re still waiting,” he said.

“You have to wonder what does it take to rein in the retailers?” he added.

Food prices have fallen every year from 2014 to 2020, he said, which is unsustainable.

He added that retailers who did very well in the last two years “seem to have a grip on government policy that could bring fairness to the food chain”.

He said these retailers have “pushed our pig, poultry, horticulture and liquid-milk sectors to the brink of wipeout”.

“I met some of our horticulture producers recently and their situation is horrific. Many are planning to stop producing,” he said.

“But the retailers keep turning the screw, using food as a loss leader. It seems they don’t care if all our growers go out of business.

“Last week, our pig farmers were protesting outside retailers. This week, our poultry farmers were protesting outside Lidl who decided to sell a large chicken for €3.49. They did this knowing that poultry growers are on their knees.”

Addressing the AGM later, director general of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Brendan Gleeson agreed that a food ombudsman/regulator will make a difference to the sector.

Something is going on that is “undesirable” – transparency is needed and a regulator can aid that, he added.

But, he warned, the regulator will not be able to determine price.