Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD has criticised Minister Charlie McConologue for adopting a minimalist approach to tackling unfair trading practices in the sector.
He said that the Minister for Agriculture has shown no signs that he is willing to challenge the dominance of processors and retailers who drive down the margins paid to primary producers.
Teachta Carthy was speaking following a parliamentary question response in which the minister stated his intention to meet the May 1st deadline of implementation of the EU Unfair Trading Practices Directive via a Statutory Instrument, rather than through primary legislation.
Teachta Carthy said:
“While an MEP, I argued that the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Directive did not go far enough to rebalance the scales for primary producers in the market chain and I warned that governments could adopt a minimalist approach, which would not deliver for family farmers.
“It is now clear that Irish government intends to pursue this minimalist approach. Minister McConologue plans to implement the UTP Directive via Statutory Instrument rather than primary legislation.
“This will undoubtedly limit the scope of the directive, ensure that there are no additional unfair trading practices restrictions and that the ability for engagement by opposition parties and farm organisations will be reduced.
“There is almost universal acceptance that there is a need for a strong legislative protection in the market chain for our farmers, particularly in the beef sector. The EU directive does not go far enough but it gives scope to national governments to restrict further practices.
“The Minister has given no indication that he will use this additional scope to, for example, ban below cost selling of food by retailers or prevent the use of arbitrary rules such as the four-movement and 30-month rules by factories.
“The government have also refused to establish a Meat Industry Regulator instead committing to a Food Ombudsman. But, six months since the programme for government, there is no sign of the realisation of the Ombudsman, it is not included in the Spring Legislative Agenda.
“In Budget 2021, the minister celebrated securing funding for the Ombudsman – what has changed since then?
“On top of the profound new challenges that Covid-19 and Brexit have presented, the position of farmers is already perilous due to the ongoing dominance of the meat factories and large retailers. This dominance needs to be tackled and we need a Minister for Agriculture who is willing to do that.
“While I am sceptical of the impact that a Food Ombudsman can deliver for farmers, Minister McConalogue insinuates that it will be a panacea. He therefore must outline the clear timeframe for its establishment and also the powers it will be given.
“The minimalist approach adopted in respect of the Unfair Trading Practices Directive will not inspire much confidence unfortunately.”