SOUTH Down Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard MLA says he is not convinced that the proposed Groceries Adjudicator will have sufficient powers to address the lack of fairness in the food chain which sees suppliers getting derisory farm gate prices while processors and retailers make huge profit margins on their produce.
The local Assemblyman, who sits on the Agriculture Committee at Stormont, was speaking after a representative from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills at Westminster addressed the Committee as part of a review into the food supply chain.
Mr Hazzard said: “We were told that the independent adjudicator who is to be in place by mid-2013 will oversee a groceries code to help ensure that large supermarket retailers treat their suppliers fairly and lawfully. This code will apply to 10 large retailers who have a turnover of over £1 billion per year but who account for approximately 95% of the retail market.
“Under the proposal, the adjudicator will have powers to arbitrate in disputes between retailers and suppliers, initiate investigations, summon evidence, place demands on retailers to publish information and impose sanctions, including financial penalties in exceptional circumstances.
“Whilst I welcome the pending appointment in the context that there is currently no regulatory measures in place, the bill as proposed does not appear to give the adjudicator sufficient ‘teeth’ to make a real difference. In fact, the representative who addressed us admitted that the regulations would most likely be ‘light touch’.
“For example, the adjudicator will have no remit over food processors and the bill includes financial sanctions as a ‘reserved power’ which can only be activated by secondary legislation that can take 6 months. It would be much more powerful if all options were available from the outset.”
Mr Hazzard added: “The call for increased powers should not be seen as an attack on supermarkets or processors because they are a valuable part of our local economy and employ hundreds of people. However, there is a strong demand among farmers for fair play and fair prices for their produce.
“Unless there is a rebalancing of the food chain with some of the risk being shifted to processors and retailers, I fear that it will force more farmers to the margins and even out of business.”