Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage

 

2:15 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)

The establishment of a food regulator has been a long-standing demand of Sinn Féin. We must ensure that farmers and consumers are protected against the stranglehold of dominant players such as multinational retailers and meat processing plants. Our farmers must be rewarded with a fair price for what is recognised around the world as a top-quality product.

In 2019, I stood with farmers on picket lines which were organised by the Beef Plan Movement. I remember some of the slogans on the placards, such as “Stop farmer exploitation” and “No handouts, just fair trade”. Farmers have been at the mercy of processors and retailers for far too long. They do not get a fair share of the profits from their produce, and this must change. In 2019, when someone spent €10 on beef, the retailer was getting €5.10 for three days’ work; the processor was getting €2.90 for three days’ work; and the farmer was getting €2 for two years’ work. There do not seem to be more up-to-date figures because of the lack of transparency in this sector. We know how much farmers receive at the factory and at the mart and we know how much beef costs in a local butcher, but we do not know the margins that are made in between. We need a regulator with strong powers to ensure there is transparency.

The Government directly transposed the EU directive on unfair trading practices, which did not go far enough to ensure farmers, as the primary producer, get a fair share. The directive allowed for member states to strengthen provisions as well as to add new unfair trading practices. With proper legislative scrutiny, we could have constructed a Bill that was fit for purpose. Instead, the Minister took the lazy way out. The unit that has been created in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on foot of the directive did not hear a single case in nearly its first two years. Its only expenditure in the first year was on the salaries of Department officials: more waste from this Government. Thankfully, we have this new Bill, which will establish the long-awaited unfair trading practices enforcement authority.

I am glad the Minister has accepted some of the recommendations that Sinn Féin proposed in the report by the Oireachtas agriculture committee. We all saw the importance of food supply security during the pandemic. We need to ensure farmers are rewarded so they can reduce food miles and the resulting carbon footprint. Suckler farmers want support, not an exit scheme. It makes more sense than importing South American food under the Mercosur deal. Our farming, horticultural and local food producers are up for the challenge, and we must ensure they are protected by getting their fair share.

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