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Supermarket watchdog 'is still two years away'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 06, 2012

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A watchdog to protect farmers and food producers from the questionable practices of supermarkets could still be two years away, Labour has warned.

The Government last year introduced draft legislation to create an adjudicator to investigate alleged breaches of the grocery industry Code of Practice.

But Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, has warned it risks being 2014/15 before an adjudicator is in place to enforce the rules.

The overseer, which would monitor the ten retailers with an annual turnover of more than £1 billion, including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's, was first mooted more than a decade ago.

Supermarkets, who claim the new body will force up food prices, have come under fire for demanding one-off payments from suppliers to guarantee future business, forcing them to sell produce on two-for-one discounts and breaking contracts at no notice.

In her address at the annual Oxford Farming Conference, Ms Creagh told delegates: "We want to see a fair and competitive supply chain for growers, processors and retailers.

"That is why Labour in Government got cross-party agreement on the need for a Groceries Code Adjudicator to ensure a fair deal for farmers and producers.

"But we are worried by Government delays which mean that the adjudicator will probably not be up and running until 2014/15."

The legislation is the responsibility of Vince Cable's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Labour has voiced concern that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not boast the clout to accelerate the process against fierce lobbying from the retail industry.

MPs have questioned whether the adjudicator will be fit for purpose once it completes is passage through Parliament without the power to issue hefty fines. As it stands, its main weapon to ward off bully-boy tactics will be naming and shaming retailers.

A report by the powerful cross-party Business Select Committee of MPs, which proposed various amendments to the Bill, was rejected by the Government.

Farmers and food producers form the backbone of the Westcountry economy, and have called for an effective regulator for years.

Elsewhere in her speech, Ms Creagh hit out at Defra's failure to lead by example by stocking enough British produce in its own canteens.

She said: "The Government has lofty aspirations about 'Buying British' but has failed to deliver on its promises.

"It spends £2 billion a year on food and is well-placed to support British farmers and food standards through procurement.

"Yet Defra's latest figures show that the department bought less than a third of its food from British sources in 2011. That must change."

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  • JeffTheHammer  |  January 07 2012, 10:45PM

    Farmers want us to pay extra to buy their produce and that is fine, but the ethos of supporting local people and local communities is very quickly lost if they can get their labour supplied elsewhere for cheaper.

  • Isolde  |  January 07 2012, 9:05PM

    Farmers are always whinging about themselves not getting enough money. They are the first to want restrictive practises to protect themselves but moan if somebody else does it. As for Farmer Jobsdave's constant rant that it is morally wrong to buy milk at less than the cost of producing it, well is it morally wrong for the farmers involved to sell it at that price. If they have over produced a product and need to sell a perishable off cheaply then it seems that the farmers are an immoral lot according to Farmer jobsdave. As for Labour complaining that it might take a couple of extra years, well you were in power for over 12 years, if it is that important to you why didn't you do something about it then.

  • Baby_boomer  |  January 07 2012, 8:07PM

    Sorry, Josdave, whilst I fully agree with your sentiment that supermarkets have an unwelcome and anti-competitive stranglehold on both farmers and the food retail economy, I think we all know that farmers are the first to whinge that consumers don't always purchase their produce. All too often, I'm sorry to say, consumers opt for cheap processed trash offered by supermarkets, the source of much of which is overseas. Suggesting, however, that it is nobody's business how a farmer spends his own money is an error on your part It most certainly is relevant given that a huge proportion of a farmer's income comes from the taxpaying public in the first place in the form of grants, subsidies, VAT refunds and the like. Look, all I'm trying to say to them is: Don't whinge about the public buying food produce from overseas which could be easily grown in the UK, unless you're prepared yourselves to do likewise when it comes to other UK producers' manufactured goods or the like.

  • josdave  |  January 07 2012, 2:05PM

    What farmers spend their income on is their business entirely and nothing to do with the article which is about multinational supermarkets, with no loyalty to the UK or any other country, exploiting UK food producers. It's a simple question - which is more important a British food producer or a supermarket?

  • Baby_boomer  |  January 06 2012, 7:39PM

    Farmers want us to buy their fresh local produce. Fine, I do try whenever this is possible, even when it might cost a little more. But do they always do their bit and buy British when it comes to the purchase of motor vehicles, etc.? Do they holiday in the UK instead of boosting overseas economies? Er...........

  • 2ladybugs  |  January 06 2012, 2:34PM

    Agriculture might only contribute approx. 1.5% to our GDP but it is 60% approx of our food requirements. If the farmers' aren't treated fairly by supermarkets etc. then I can see we will loose a lot of these farms. We will then be reliant on imported foods which in the long-run will dictate what prices we pay. Is that what we want?

  • Timoglock  |  January 06 2012, 2:07PM

    "Farmers and food producers form the backbone of the Westcountry economy" Hardly the backbone of the ecomony.

  • josdave  |  January 06 2012, 12:53PM

    Supermarkets have too much of a stranglehold on the economy. They control wholesale prices to such an extent that many of our home grown food and milk is bought by them at less than the cost of producing it. That is morally wrong and should be illegal but the government don't have the guts or the will to take on the supermarkets. Local councils are just as bad handing out planning permission whenever a supermarket holds out its wallet.

  • Plautus  |  January 06 2012, 10:54AM

    A watchdog to protect farmers and food producers from the questionable practices of supermarkets could still be two years away, you tell us. And no news at all of a watchdog to protect consumers from the predatory behaviour of these corporate conmen, with their dodgy sales practices. These are the people who double the price of goods for a limited period and then announce "amazing half price offers". And who give you bread that's not fit to eat and meat that is not properly hung. Of couse government drag their heels. They need their taxes, now the finance sector has collapsed.