COMMENT: It’s time the supermarkets were brought to book when it comes to their buying policies towards Irish livestock farmers.

Twelve months ago, all of the UK multiples said that they would commit to buying beef exclusively from the British Isles, citing the benefits to them of meat quality and full traceability.

This immediately led to a strengthening of beef prices. One year later it is now evident that these same retailers are back tracking on these commitments. And the game afoot is to find ways of reducing the producer price.

The term ’in spec’ is now being thrown around with gay abandon. But in reality it is being used by the supermarkets as a tool to bring back farm gate  prices. Hardly a week now seems to go by when one or another of the beef classification criteria demanded by the plants are amended or added to. And, of course, the processors are quick to put the blame for all of this back on to the retailers.

But the fundamental fact remains that the world is short of food. In a global sense there is absolutely no reason why beef prices should be falling at the present time. In fact the very opposite is the case.

The supermarkets must be told bluntly that the days of cheap food are over.  And this is s a job which the Irish Farmers Association and the other farming organisations must get on with as a matter of priority.

It’s also time for the European Commission to start asking questions of all the supermarkets in terms of their buying practises. Brussels is always quick to tell farmers that they must improve on their conservation and animal welfare standards. The plethora of inspectors, that are now such a feature of local agriculture, is evidence of the way these policies have been endorsed in a more than proactive manner.

So it is time for the Commission to take a similarly proactive approach with the retailers. It remains a fact that any member of the public can quickly find out the costs incurred by every farming business throughout Europe, But can the same be said for the multiples? Absolutely not.

Farmers have been demanding transparency from the supermarkets for years when it comes to their buying practises.  This has always seemed like a fair request to me. In AgriLand’s opinion it’s time that the retailers were forced to open their books, so as to facilitate an open and honest discussion regarding their treatment of primary producers.