In a recent article to That’s Farming, I mentioned some possible reasons why farmers find themselves in the situation they are in today, writes Pat Maher, Independent Farmers of Ireland member.
In this article, I would like to touch on a couple of areas regarding competition law. Over the past few months, the in-spec requirements for finished cattle have been a hot topic for TDs, farm lobbying groups/organisations, etc. and rightly so.
Bord Bia says that they have nothing to do with these requirements and that they are processor requirements, while processors claim these are retailers’ requirements.
Yet, at a recent Beef Market Taskforce meeting, all retailers, excluding one, said they had no issue with beef over 30 months, for example.
Anti-competitive and restrictive practices
It appears that none of these stakeholders want to claim responsibility for these unnecessary requirements, yet they remain requirements. Why?
This is where anti-competitive and restrictive practices come into the scenario.
Section 4.1 and 5.1 of The Competition Act 2002 clearly state that it is an offence to ‘directly or indirectly fix purchase or selling prices or any other trading conditions’.
It is also prohibited to introduce ‘any measures which may or potentially may, have the effect of restricting access to markets’.
These in-spec requirements are trading conditions that producers must comply with or be penalized financially.
They are also technical barriers to trade. Further, there is no scientific basis for their existence. So where did these requirements come from? Why do they exist? And for whose benefit? Certainly not farmers.
In my last article, I touched on Pathways For Growth as a possible reason for some of the problems we are facing.
Failed to deliver fairness and sustainability for farmers
This Bord Bia document provides the business model for Irish agriculture, as a whole, it describes challenges and interestingly solutions for the sector as a whole.
This strategic plan for agriculture refers to ‘co-opetition and branding’ as a core part of the solution and forms a critical layer to the national consolidation and rationalisation strategy underway for some years now, yet, it appears, this fundamental and singular most influential document impacting all farmers in Ireland and their livelihoods, that of their families and rural communities, in general, has failed to deliver fairness and sustainability for farmers.
Perhaps all this explains why all requirements for finished cattle in all processing plants are exactly the same. Perhaps, this is why there is never as much as 5c/kg difference between any factory.
No control, no competition, no fair price and no choice for farmers.