Thursday, 19 January 2023
Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
We have spoken here many times previously, and the Minister has spoken himself, about the necessity of having a decent food supply chain that provides people with adequately priced safe food. Beyond that, in the context of the wider agricultural industry, we are talking about the sustainability of family farms.
From the point of view of rebalancing, we all welcome the prospect of a food regulator. We have all spoken many times previously about the big processors, in particular the meat factories and the cartel-like behaviour, and the power differential. It is necessary that a rebalancing is done. We all accept that the EU unfair trading practices directive did not go far enough. We did not follow it up in this State with a sufficient number of teeth. I welcome the food regulator, but let us be clear: this will only work if the regulator has sufficient power and resources to do the business. Otherwise, it is another farce.
I welcome that the Minister has indicated that he is open to discussion and to hearing the ideas many Members will put forward to strengthen the regulator. The scope of the regulator is too limited. It can deal with business to business relationships, but that is not the entire agrifood supply chain. We must be able to deal with issues between businesses and consumers to ensure fairness and transparency. That is the idea behind the initiative.
In the investigation of complaints, the regulator must have the ability to look at breaches of competition law or cartel-like behaviour. We need those type of teeth. The regulator must be able to draw on information beyond what is already available in the public domain and, therefore, it needs to be able to examine all the ins and outs in the agrifood supply chain. We must also be able to compare prices and price differentials and take an international perspective.
As has been stated, at times there will be a need to update legislation. We must ensure that any proposals put forward by the regulator on changes that are necessary would be published alongside the reports. My colleagues have spoken about many other issues that require to be addressed. That is a necessity.
As this is the only opportunity I will get, we must examine sustainability regarding Coillte. We must have a strong conversation with the European Commission. We cannot have a sell-out to a British investment fund. That is not acceptable to anybody.