West Tyrone MLA and member of the Assembly’s Agriculture committee, Declan Mc Aleer is not convinced that the proposed Groceries Adjudicator will have sufficient powers to defend the rights of small suppliers.
Mr Mc Aleer
“We were told that the independent adjudicator due 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.
“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 as there is currently no regulatory measures in place, I am concerned that the adjudicator won’t have sufficient ‘teeth’ to make a real difference.
“The adjudicator’s remit will be to address concerns raised by the competition commission, rather than tackling the unfairness in the food supply. However, this remit does not give the adjudicator the necessary scope and power to deal with the serious issues that farmers here are experiencing.
“It is important that smaller suppliers and independent farmers are not bullied by the large multi nationals who make up 95% of the retail market so we need to ensure that any adjudicator has the powers to protect the smaller supplier.
“As such, the committee accepted my proposal to write to the department highlighting these concerns and press for a strengthening of the legislation. 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.”