THE price differential between Northern Ireland and Great Britain must be recognised in the Groceries Adjudicator Bill, Ian Paisley has said.
Speaking this week during the debate on the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill at Westminster, the North Antrim MP and DUP agriculture spokesman welcomed the bill’s introduction but warned that improvements must be made, specifically for the farmers of Ulster.
The bill will arbitrate disputes between retailers and suppliers, investigate confidential complaints from direct and indirect suppliers to end the ‘climate of fear’ and hold to account retailers who break the rules by ‘naming and shaming’ or fining supermarkets.
Now in its second reading, the bill will see the installation of an adjudicator by the end of the year, with the final legislation being ironed out in early 2013.
Mr Paisley said: “The production of food is our most important industry, not just for what it earns for our economy and what it achieves, but because of what it says about us as a nation and what we are prepared to promote to our people to eat.
“Consumers are becoming more and more aware of food traceability and of the importance of our nation’s ability to produce good quality, tasty, traceable food with as little intervention as possible of chemicals, and a clear process chain for the production of that food so that we understand food stability, food security, and what real agricultural sustainability is all about.
“I do not fear to predict that the production of food over the next few years will become the most important topic in our nation during this century. I say that because of the threat posed by huge cartels and their interests to the production of good quality, tasty food.
“I say all this in the knowledge that if we introduce a food ombudsman or a supermarkets adjudicator, there will be certain consequences. One is that we as a nation must educate our people that food can no longer be regarded as a cheap commodity. If we want good quality, traceable, digestible, beneficial food produced in a sustainable way that continues to employ people on a living wage, that will not be done cheaply.
“Those who would undermine that by marketeering cheap food to our people and bringing cheap food in vast quantities from overseas undermine our ability to produce quality food, ruin the industry and hasten the day when we will have limited choice as a nation and be forced to pay the highest of high prices for food. That is why we must protect the primary and key producers of food in our nation.
“Some improvements could be made to make it a brilliant Bill, and we should strive to do that. The Bill is not intended, for example, to deal with commercial issues such as the producer price differential which exists between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. That is particularly important for me in Northern Ireland because of two things. The first is water — 17 miles of it between my island and your island, which adds to the price of food and food production, and the demands put on a primary producer in my country when he wishes to supply one of the 10 great supermarkets here on the mainland. The second is climate and the fact that it is considerably colder where I come from, which has a detrimental effect.
“The inability to impose fines at the outset is another flaw that needs to be addressed. The president of the Ulster Farmers Union, Mr Harry Sinclair, wrote to all Northern Ireland MPs at the weekend, stating that “we firmly believe that the ‘teeth’ necessary to secure compliance needs to be much stronger” and that fining should therefore be set out in the Bill. I believe that the Government should listen to those words and deter the supermarkets,” said the MP.
“We really need to move away from the nonsensical idea that bad publicity in itself will be sufficient deterrent for the supermarkets, because it will not be enough. We must let the supermarkets know that if they price-fix, because they are a cartel, they will be kicked where it hurts, and that will have an effect.
“We must also ensure that we bring about a new relationship that rebalances the primary producers’ impact on the market with that of the supermarkets... I believe that the only way we can do that is by establishing a new relationship, not one in which the farmer is king, but one in which he is at least treated equally and feels that his sweat will be rewarded with a fair price... Otherwise, over the next 20 years our agricultural sector will continue to be dashed and to fall and we will find ourselves held in the grip of outside interests beyond the shores of this nation that will sell us what they want, which will not necessarily be good, clean, traceable or tasty, and they will sell it at their price.
“We must have price transparency — having the adjudicator is, of course, one way of providing price transparency — so that the consumer knows why they have paid a certain amount for steak, poultry, pork or other products, what it has cost the farmer to produce, what it has cost the processor to process and make good for them and what it has cost the supermarket to retail. They must know each cost along the supply chain, because otherwise they are being robbed of a vital thing: knowledge about what they are being shown they should eat.”