The Independent Farmers Organisation of Ireland has said that “the omens are not good” for a new watchdog to investigate complaints about unfair trading practices (UTP).

The group maintains that the design of the new Office for Fairness and Transparency in the Agri-Food Supply Chain is a “waste of farmers’ time and taxpayers’ money”.

As of April 28, all supply agreements are required to be fully complaint with the UTP regulations.

The legislation aims to protect farmers, farmers’ organisations and other weaker suppliers in the agricultural and food supply chain against stronger buyers by prohibiting 16 specific UTPs.

Independent Farmers believes that a number of these regulations are already covered by existing legislation, including the Prompt Payment of Accounts Act 1997.

The group said that the new office should report to the Department of Justice rather than the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) if breaching UTP regulations is considered to be a criminal act.

Independent Farmers believes that Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue should not have any direct role in the selection of board members for the new authority.

“To ensure independence and impartiality in any investigation of wrongdoing, Independent Farmers would contend that all roles in this new function should be filled by people with a legal background, preferably with relevant experience and from outside the ranks of the existing civil service.

“Otherwise, it is as Independent Farmers suspect, being set up to fail,” a group spokesperson said.

Independent Farmers also said that no fee should apply for making a formal complaint to the new office.

tillage food security green waste Minister McConalogue
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue

A recent survey showed that half of primary producers had not heard about the UTP regulations, despite one in four claiming to have subjected to unfair treatment.

Currently, the interim Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Enforcement Authority within DAFM is tasked with examining complaints and increasing awareness around the regulations.

Minister McConalogue previously said that the new office for fairness and transparency will “be an advocate for farmers, fishers and other small food businesses in the agricultural and food supply chain”.