Farmers' fury at failure to curb supermarket power
ENTERPRISE Minister Richard Bruton came under fire yesterday from some 8,000 farmers who marched on his offices to warn him that they would not be ignored in their demands for fair trade.
Led by more than a dozen tractors, the Irish Farmers Association members marched to Kildare Street, in Dublin, to demand a meeting with Mr Bruton -- claiming he wouldn't meet them to discuss promised fair trade legislation and protest a recent raid on them by the Competition Authority.
Farmers are incensed that measures promised by Fine Gael during the election campaign to curb supermarket power in the food chain have not been delivered by the new Government.
They called for the disbandment of the Competition Authority, claiming it was "not fit for purpose" following a raid on IFA headquarters two weeks ago to investigate allegations made by Iceland supermarkets that farmers were trying to fix the price of milk.
IFA president John Bryan said that the authority was going after the wrong target.
He said farmers were totally transparent on margins, incomes and costs, yet giant retailers hid their multi-million euro profits from the public.
"Any law that protects retailers and criminalises farmers is wrong. Our competition law is flawed and the law must be changed," he said. "When was the last time 15 officers raided the supermarkets? Never."
Dairy farmer Kevin Kiersey said that the greed of supermarkets was shown by the fact that when milk prices paid to farmers crashed by 49pc two years ago, consumers only got a 2pc drop in price.
Vegetable producer Brian O'Reilly said that supermarkets loved to display the names and photos of local growers but then flogged off fruit and vegetables supplied from abroad at rock-bottom prices.
A spokesman for Mr Bruton said the minister had not refused to meet the IFA and had told them he would do so shortly after he considered a new report on a possible voluntary code of practice for the grocery trade.
He met consultant John Travers, who drew up the report, yesterday evening.
However, he could not discuss the Competition Authority investigation as it was an independent statutory agency.
"It would not be appropriate for the minister to discuss an ongoing Competition Authority investigation with any party to that investigation, and this was communicated to the IFA," a statement said.
The Competition Authority said they did not normally comment on investigations but believed it was in the public interest to do so following IFA comments.
"The search was part of an ongoing investigation into possible price-fixing in the liquid milk market and follows recent incidents involving the disruption by groups of farmers of normal business at a number of retail outlets," they said in a statement.
It had been carried out in a highly professional manner by experienced investigative staff including a detective sergeant on full-time secondment from the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, they said.
A spokesman for the authority accepted it was in the public domain that Iceland had been the source of the complaint.
Farmers had protested outside Iceland stores in March over their plans to sell milk from the North at 99c for two litres. The chain, which has four stores in Dublin, refused to comment yesterday.
IBEC's food and drink sector called on the Government to introduce the promised fair trade bill. Their retail sector, however, said they had no comment on the IFA protest.
Many of those on the protest carried placards declaring 'Greedy retailers fleece farmers. Government must deliver fair play'.
Farmers also set up a barbecue to cook Irish rashers and handed out bacon sandwiches to bemused passers-by, while two pigs were also transported along the protest route .