Major supermarkets are relying on a lack of awareness among farmers around their rights when it comes to unfair trading practices, Independent TD Carol Nolan has said.
The Laois-Offaly TD made the comments when speaking during a Dáil debate about soaring food prices, as she called for the efforts being made to shield consumers to be doubled down to protect farmers and primary food producers.
“The farmer and producer are experiencing massive hikes in the form of input costs, fertiliser price increases, green diesel and other agri-contractor related expenses, but when they go to sell their goods they continue to receive below the cost in return,” she said.
The deputy acknowledged the movements being made through the development of the Unfair Trading Practices Authority, but highlighted the fact that only 14% of primary producers were aware of their legal options in a recent survey.
“Only 14% were aware of the fact that, as a supplier of agri-food product, they have legal protection against the 16 specific unfair trading practices (UTP).
“Only half of primary producers surveyed claim that they understand that the UTP Regulations protect against unfair trading practices,” she added.
Nolan said that government must ensure that these people know their rights when it comes to these practices, so that they can take collective action and “force change on the below-cost issue”.
The deputy also said that it must be the major supermarkets and multiples that absorb the brunt of the financial hit by “paying a decent price for quality, Irish goods – not families, farmers and producers”.
Responding to the deputy’s statements, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said that the findings of the recent survey did highlight “the need to reinforce the message that protection is available for farmers”.
However, he also outlined existing and planned measures surrounding unfair trading practices.
The minister said that his department established the Unfair Trading Practices Enforcement Authority last year which investigates complaints from farmers and suppliers and initiates legal proceedings on their behalf. He continued:
“The findings also provide a strong evidence base for the Enforcement Authority to more optimally target its resources in the areas of most concern from a supplier perspective.”
Speaking about upcoming measures, Minister McConalogue explained that the government approved a General Scheme of the Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022 on March 22, 2021.
“This bill will establish the Office for Fairness and Transparency in the Agri-Food Supply chain as a new independent, statutory body and will take over enforcement of the UTP Directive,” the minister outlined.
The minister concluded by saying that he hopes that the legal drafting of the bill will be finalised in the coming weeks, so that it can be “presented for consideration by the houses of oireachtas in the very near future”.