The NFU has branded a decision by the government to ignore recommendations on a groceries code adjudicator as “inexplicable” and a “kick in the teeth”.
The recommendations were made in July by two cross-party select committees of MPs in response to the government’s draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill.
The MPs called for a revision to the Bill, which would have given the adjudicator more powers when dealing with the supermarkets.
But the government announced on Saturday 15 October that it had rejected the MPs’ calls for the adjudicator to be allowed to launch investigations based on claims made by trade associations or whistleblowers within the retailers.
That means the onus to complain will be on the individual farmer, who will have to contact the adjudicator directly.
The government also said that when the role was created – expected to be in early 2014 – it would not carry with it the power to impose financial penalties on companies that breached the code.
It added that there was no provision under the Bill to allow the adjudicator to make fines and insisted the threat of investigation and possible exposure in the public eye would act as a powerful deterrent.
But NFU president Peter Kendall described the announcement as a “kick in the teeth and inexplicable”.
Mr Kendall explained that the need to allow the adjudicator to take evidence from a wider range of sources other than the farmer alone was essential to ensure the code could be made to work effectively.
“The role whistleblowers within the retailers could play in supplying evidence of breaches and giving the adjudicator the ability to fine retailers where it identifies breaches of the code were vital to ensuring the code works,” he said.
“The government chose to publish a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, so that MPs would be able to give their considered judgement on what form the final Bill should take.
“Having done so, it has now chosen to ignore the most significant recommendations of those MPs, rendering the pre-legislative process an irrelevant diversion,” Mr Kendall said.
“Frankly, at a time when retailers are engaging in another round of aggressive price cutting, it is more important than ever that we ensure they play fair with their suppliers, so they can continue to invest and innovate for the benefit of both consumers and food producers,” he added.
“Sadly, as things stand the adjudicator will be badly hampered in its ability to do so, making it unfit for purpose.
“It is hard not to detect the dead hand of the retailers at play behind the government’s reticence to establish an effective regime to police the groceries code,” he said.
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