The government has appointed former Co-operative Farms managing director Christine Tacon as Britain’s first Groceries Code Adjudicator.
The long-awaited appointment was announced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on Monday (21 January).
As Groceries Code Adjudicator, Ms Tacon will oversee the relationship between Britain’s supermarket giants and their suppliers, including farmers.
The job includes enforcing and overseeing the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which sets minimum standards in the way big retailers treat their suppliers.
Ms Tacon will investigate alleged breaches of the code, which applies to all retailers with a turnover of more than £1bn in groceries in the UK.
She will have the power to fine retailers found guilty of breaching the code.
Ms Tacon spent 11 years at Co-operative Farms before stepping down a year ago. During her time at the £60m business, she turned a £6m annual loss into a £6m annual profit.
Co-operative Farms manages 34,400ha of UK farmland, some 10,100ha of which are owned by the Co-operative Group – making the society Britain’s biggest farmer.
The appointment of an adjudicator follows concern that an imbalance between large retailers and direct suppliers is having an anti-competitive effect on the food supplier chain.
The code limits supermarkets’ power to make farmers and suppliers pay retailers’ marketing costs and compensation for food shrinkage or wastage.
It also limits retailers’ power to make suppliers pay them for stocking their products on shop shelves or paying for instore promotions.
Despite the code, farmers and anti-poverty campaigners have continued to complain that big retailers are using their power unfairly when dealing with food producers.
NFU president Peter Kendall said he was optimistic that the adjudicator would start to roll back abuses of power within the food supply chain.
“It is a really important post,” Mr Kendall told Farmers Weekly. “I hope she is really proactive in rooting out [abuses] and applying the Groceries Code of Practice.”
The recent scandal which saw horsemeat found in beefburgers sold by major supermarkets illustrated the huge pressure suppliers were under to drive down food costs, said Mr Kendall.
“There are all sorts of pressures in the supply chain and we need to make sure that those pressures do not put undue burdens on farmers,” he said.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents the big supermarket chains, has argued that an adjudicator is unnecessary.
Overall farmgate prices are controlled by a number of factors, such as global demand for commodities, rather than by supermarkets, the BRC insists.