IFA president accuses M&S of ‘gross hypocrisy’

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy has accused Marks & Spencer (M&S) of ‘gross hypocrisy’ by slashing the price of fresh produce which he said was below the cost of production.

He was speaking at a protest at an M&S store in west Dublin today (Friday, December 14).

“I want to nail the lie that vegetables and potatoes can be sold below cost without hurting Irish growers and ultimately driving them out of business,” he said.

“Using farm produce as a tool to drive footfall undermines Irish production and the financial viability of specialist growers and producers. The number of field vegetable growers fell from 377 in 1999 to 165 in 2015 – a drop of 56% and this trend has continued,” said the IFA president.

Farmers, he said, have invested hugely in their businesses to ensure sufficient supplies of fresh Irish produce.

This predatory pricing model takes the inherent value out of fresh produce lines, leaving it difficult to ensure sustainable farm-gate prices. It demeans the category in the minds of the consumer.

“It’s been a very tough year on producers, with significant extra costs because of the late spring and the drought conditions during the summer,” Healy said.

“Reducing the shelf price of some vegetables and potatoes to as low as 20c/kg sends a very misleading message to consumers regarding the costs, risks and skills associated with this sector.”

Healy claimed that M&S was guilty of hypocrisy in light of its stated commitment to supporting the sector. “It is ironic that in the M&S ‘Farming for the Future’ programme, it refers to sustainability and ethical standards. It begs the question as to what is ethical and sustainable about these predatory pricing tactics?”

The IFA president said that he was disappointed at what he saw as the lack of support for Irish growers by M&S. He contended that a number of vegetable lines in the store are non-Irish.

The grocery goods regulations introduced in 2016 totally neglected to address unsustainable discounting, Healy said. He re-iterated the IFA’s call on Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation Heather Humphreys to address the issue immediately.