‘Food chain partnership for stores and farms must be on equal terms’

March 24, 2019

UNFAIR TREATMENT: “Farmers – who for the last nine years have been repeatedly promised a reduction in the excessive burden of inspection and checking – will find themselves lumbered with even more onerous obligations to prove that what they are growing or raising isn’t going to result in the nation being exterminated.”

FAIR TRADE: Some of the produce in front of me here have been used by all supermarket chains at different times for loss-leading campaigns. Farmers For Action says the Grocery Code Adjudicator should ensure that they should be subjected to heavier scrutiny from the their suppliers rather than themselves by the buyers and that it is time that were was more equality in the relationship between the supermarket buyers and their suppliers.

 

A COUNTRYSIDE leader has accused one of the supermarket chains of excessive new traceability demands on their suppliers when existing ones were already stringent.

Many small and medium-sized farmers have been asked by the Co-Operative to give details of all the inputs that are used in the production of the foodstuffs it buys and retails on top of the existing standards they have for their suppliers listed here.

‘Fairness goes both ways’

Chairman of Farmers For Action David Handley was not impressed that these new rules won’t be reciprocated from the point of view of suppliers being able to check on their buyers to ensure that they are being fair too.

He also appeared to take aim at fellow farming organisation the National Farmers Union, its president Minette Batters and her team of not speaking out enough on these new expectations on its members and not calling it out for what it is.

He said: “I have no idea what kind of yardstick it intends applying: which inputs it will deem acceptable and which not.

‘Supermarket chains will be like a pack of baying hounds’

“But what I do know is that once the up-and-coming Co-op starts scrutinising farms to this extent the rest of the supermarket sector will soon be following its example like a pack of baying hounds.

“At which point farmers – who for the last nine years have been repeatedly promised a reduction in the excessive burden of inspection and checking – will find themselves lumbered with even more onerous obligations to prove that what they are growing or raising isn’t going to result in the nation being exterminated.

‘NFU should say it is a nonsensical idea’

“If we had anything like a decent farming organisation in this country the alarm bells would already be ringing and the public would be being made aware of what a nonsensical idea this is.

Christine Tracon, the current Groceries Code Adjudicator is an independent regulator , who is meant to step in if supermarket giants treat their suppliers lawfully but fairly. Critics claim the code is voluntary, when it can only be effective if it is mandatory

Mr Handley said: “We should be making the case that since we are supposed to be ‘partners’ in the food chain with the retailers then we should have a right to exercise the same level of scrutiny over their activities.”

He also asked Mrs Tracon to investigate supermarket brand farm labels and enable his members to access these labels to verity their origin and production standards of fruit of vegetables and to call them out for their trading practices such as loss leading.

‘Loss leading leads to BOGOF deals that hurt suppliers’

Loss leading is a pricing strategy is when a store sells selected goods like milk, eggs and butter below their market cost in order to attract customers who will, according to the loss leader philosophy, make up for the losses of highlighted goods with additional purchases or profitable goods. In layman’s terms, this might BOGOF (Buy One, Get One Free) deals.

‘Brand-name farm labels provide bog-standard goods’

Mr Handley said: “That should extend to having access to their accounts to find out quite how much they are marking up the produce for which they pray farmers such ludicrously low prices.

“Crucially, it should help us to verify the origin and production standards of fruit and vegetables sold under the label of the many fantasy farms the retailers have created in order to give bog-standard goods a spurious provenance, thus enabling them to ease up the retail price by a few pence.

He also suggested as part of a equal and fair transparency agreement, supermarket chains should be subjected to audits on how they treat their own staff on pay and conditions of work, holiday obligations or limited-hours contracts.

Mr Handley said: “If retailers are to be allowed to examine farming systems in such minute detail then the same facility should be extended to farmers when it comes to their activities.

‘Food chain partnership is not on an equal basis’

“I imagine there are all sorts of murky corners to be explored in the supermarket sector. I imagine, equally, that any attempt at exploration would be robustly opposed, probably on the all-purpose ground of commercial confidentiality.

“Farmers, on the other hand, will have no option but to comply with the Co-op’s demands if they wish to remain listed as suppliers. As always the idea of food chain ‘partnership’ lacks the vital adjective ‘equal’.”

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