Mother and daughter choosing meat in a supermarket©Cultura/Rex Shutterstock

Legislation to tackle unfair practices across the supply chain should be introduced across the European Union, a group of MEPs has said.

Members of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee said farmers and consumers needed to be better protected from unscrupulous practices.

Those caught breaking the rules should face tougher penalties, they said.

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Voluntary codes of practice were failing to tackle the imbalance of power or remove fear from the supply chain, said the committee in a vote in Brussels on Thursday (12 November).

Further action was needed to boost farmers’ bargaining power, and better co-ordination was required across the EU to tackle unfair practices, it said.

The vote followed a debate where members sought to agree the committee’s opinion on practices in the supply chain and how it could be better regulated.

Committee rapporteur and Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness said the vote was an important first step in pushing the issue of fairness in the supply chain up the political agenda.

“It reflects the concerns of the members of the agriculture committee about the effect of unfair trading practices on farm incomes, as well as on the sustainability of the food supply chain.

“We now must ensure that the commission takes our report on board in its upcoming assessment of the voluntary Supply Chain Initiative, which – while welcome – is insufficient.”

Ms McGuinness said she had been working on the issue for a number of years.

“I’m heartened that across the political groups in the committee there is a clear understanding of the damage caused by unfair trading practices, and a clear demand for commission action.”

Spanish farm minister Isabel Garcia Tejerina said the lack of Europe-wide regulations was an issue for all member states and the entire EU food sector.

“In a single market with so many commercial links, it is necessary to go far beyond relationships [among operators in the food supply chain] within individual member states.”

The committee’s opinion will now be fed into a European Parliament response to a communication drawn up by the commission earlier this year on ways to tackle unfairness in the supply chain.

The parliament is expected to scrutinise the committee’s opinion early next year.