EU must tackle unfair food supply chains, says NFU

6 December 2017

The EU should follow the UK and legislate against unfair and abusive trading practices in the food supply chain, according to National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond.

Speaking at the Politico Agriculture and Food Summit 2017 in Paris last week, Meurig urged the EU to tackle unfair trading practices that have hurt farmers.

“For far too long, unfair practices have been allowed to occur throughout the chain, to the detriment to many farming businesses— now is the time for the EU to act,” he said.

“Purely voluntary schemes to curb unfair training practices, such as we had in the UK, did not work and we ended up with legislation— the Grocery Supply Code of Practice and a Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA)— as the tools to solve the problem. 

“Regulating only the retailers and protecting their direct suppliers, the GCA has made an impact in the four years since its establishment and we are now seeing fewer suppliers experiencing code related issues. Clearly, regulation is required to reduce unfair trading practices.” 

The NFU defines unfair trading practices as behaviour that grossly deviates from good commercial conduct, including payments later than 30 days for perishable products, retroactive changes to contracts concerning volumes, prices and quality standards, last minute order cancellations of perishable products, claims for unsold products and requests for upfront payments to secure or retain contracts. 

However, NFU research shows that one in seven farming members in the UK still face unfair trading practices—a proportion it says highlights the need for further development of the principle of fair trading to be enforced throughout the whole supply chain. 

Raymond said the EU needed to upgrade the industry’s voluntary initiatives if it wanted to see conditions improve for farmers.

“It is clear that the voluntary EU-wide Supply Chain Initiative has serious limitations and we will continue to reiterate that an effective EU legislative framework is vital,” he said.

“As well as strong EU regulation, we wish to see an independent enforcement office, such as the GCA, introduced. If implemented properly, this will give producers the security and confidence to come forward with reports of unfair trading practices.”

He added that the UK’s model also needed to be expanded to address issues throughout the whole supply chain.

“Quite rightly, the GCA is often described as a model for other EU countries, but we would argue that the role of the GCA must be extended in breadth and depth,” he said. 

“The NFU will continue to work for British farmers on unfair trading practices and will push for the culture change so badly needed in the food supply chain.”

Meanwhile, the NFU has estimated that there was a 29% shortfall of seasonal workers in the UK horticultural industry in September, with recruiting foreign workers becoming increasingly difficult due to the uncertainty created by Brexit.

Most UK fruit and salad growers rely on migrant workers to harvest their crops, mainly from eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, according to NFU.

Frazer Thompson, chief executive of English wine producer Chapel Down, told the Press Association that continued access to European labour after Brexit is crucial so that tonnes of fruit do not go to waste in farms across the UK.

“The biggest potential impact [of Brexit] is on agricultural labour,” he said.

“We want a resolution to allow us to have freedom of movement for labour to pick the fruit. This is something that affects all fruit farmers across the south east of England. 

“I’m hoping it will be sorted out and I hope they won’t close the doors, as if there’s no one to pick the fruit, we’ll have to import everything.”

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