Sometimes, cheap eats have a hidden cost: someone somewhere is paying for it. Early last month, the Irish Times reported on Minister of State for Agriculture Trevor Sergeant’s calls for a retail ombudsman to monitor how supermarkets set their payments to suppliers and farmers.
Yesterday, RTE Radio One’s DriveTime show reported on a call by the UK’s Competition Commission for an ombudsman to mediate in disputes between supermarkets and suppliers. The ombudsman would become involved where UK farmers feel they are not getting a fair deal for their produce.
Right on cue, the Irish Farmer’s Association is calling for something similar here. IFA President Padraig Walshe says that legislation is needed to deal with the impact of supermarket’s power over food producers, suppliers, and farmers. He also called for a Code of Practice to outlaw below-cost selling, as the producer rather than the supermarket is often expected to take the hit. It might be good for my wallet and yours, but the producers are often making a loss. And if a relatively small producer complains, will the powerful supermarket listen?
Of course, supermarkets have enormous buying power; suppliers, like the rest of us, have a love-hate relationship with them. Do you think an ombudsman is needed to regulate the relationship between suppliers and supermarkets? Do the farmers and suppliers have a case, or are they simply resisting the same downward pressure on prices that the rest of us have all been subject to over the past year? Go on, be honest: do you care?