The European Commission (EC) is considering the creation of an adjudicator to police supermarket abuse of power within the EU using the UK as a potential model, according to a member of the Cabinet of the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, speaking in London yesterday.
The EC sees an adjudicator as a way of improving the food supply chain within the EU, said Gwilym Jones, who has responsibility for international and legal affairs.
In a keynote address given at a conference on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, organised by the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum, Jones said: “We want the food chain to work much, much better.” It needs to be robust enough to meet the challenges of issues such as food security over the next 50 years.
At a food chain meeting held in Brussels this week, concerns had been raised about who benefits most from the “added value” components of the food supply chain, said Jones. The worry was that added value benefits were migrating from producers to retailers, he said. Without sufficient profits, farmers wouldn’t have the ability to make the investments needed to ensure their long-term efficiency and competitiveness, said Jones.
Abusive commercial practices
Jones said the Cabinet of the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs would soon be looking at a self-regulatory system to prevent supermarkets abusing their power. “We must get rid of abusive commercial practices,” he said.
The EC would be looking to adopt “best practice” in any system it put in place to regulate the food supply chain, said Jones. “But it needs some form of enforcement framework that participants can agree on.” However, if voluntary agreement could not be reached by the industry, he said legislation would be considered.
Jones noted that the UK was ahead of much of the rest of the EU with its plans for an adjudicator to police the UK’s food supply chain.
The news that the EC is considering a regulatory system to police the food supply chain across the EU comes in the same week that the UK government announced it would provide the Groceries Code Adjudicator here with the power to fine supermarkets if they break the Groceries Supply Code of Practice.
While reform of the CAP – moving away from production-related subsidies to farmers to subsidies based more on environmental stewardship – is currently being debated within the European Parliament (EP), several speakers at yesterday’s conference said a “co-decision” agreement between the EP and the EC was unlikely any time soon.
While the bureaucrats had hoped to have the reforms in place by January 2014, this was unlikely. Some even doubted that agreement would be achieved by 2015.
Many farmers and EU Member States want to retain production subsidies and feel that the emphasis on transferring payments for “environmental stewardship” and “greening the CAP” had gone too far – especially at a time of economic crisis in the EU, when cuts were being sought to the EU’s budget. At euro 55bn, the CAP represents about 41% of the EU budget.
“The blunt instrument proposals on greening are the problem,” said Julie Girling MEP, Conservative spokeswoman on Agriculture and Rural Affairs. “I am not anti-environment, but you need flexibility to adapt to the needs of different areas.”
National Farmers Union (NFU) president Peter Kendall added: “So much of the debate [about CAP reform] has been overshadowed by the greening.”
While the NFU wants efficient farming production rewarded through CAP, it emerged that without production subsidies, many smaller UK sheep and beef farmers that graze animals would not have viable businesses.