Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 11 December 2016

IFA is merely facing up to competition

Published 17/05/2011 | 05:00

It could not be more ironic. In a week when we heard so much about the damage being done to Ireland's food industry by the multiples, the offices of the country's main farm organisation are raided on foot of a complaint by retailers about -- wait for it -- unfairly influencing prices.

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We are all consumers and so the idea of championing the consumer's right to purchase the best value in any line of goods is universally accepted.

But as Philip Boucher Hayes so clearly demonstrated last week as part of RTE's Heartland series, our food industry and the rural communities it supports are suffering because of the absolute power that the big supermarkets wield over how and where our food is produced.

Surely, then, the right of farmers to protest about the price that they are receiving for their produce should be upheld? This was one of the principal tenets of the NFA, the precursor to the IFA, and remains one of the key roles of the organisation today, just like any of the many union groups that represent workers.

Going by the offices, computers, phones, files and indeed staff at the Farm Centre that were targeted by the 16 officials and Garda last Friday, it appears that the Competition Authority feels that the IFA has a case to answer on its efforts to maximise milk prices for dairy farmers specialising in the 365-days-a-year liquid milk business.

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It is true that in the last number of months dairy farmers protested at the prices that the Iceland chain of shops in Dublin were selling their milk. They believed that if Iceland continued selling milk at 99c for two litres, all the other retailers would follow, which would result in further downward price pressure being passed down the line until it ended up with the smallest player in the supply chain, the farmer.

Where is the crime in farmers organising to try to prevent this? Do we seriously expect them to just lie down and take whatever price they are offered? If we do, then we'll be looking at a pretty empty rural landscape in a very short time.

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The flip side is the letter that was circulated to supermarket managers by Musgraves last week, stating its determination not to give in on demands for a higher milk price. The circular warned that with negotiations at loggerheads, supplies could become disrupted. The advice was to stock up on milk in advance. Is this not just another example of a group acting in unison to maximise its returns?

Despite being set up to protect consumers from becoming the victim of big business price-fixing cartels, the Competition Authority is now in danger of being seen as part of the problem as rural Ireland fights for survival.

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