Keith calls for fairer practices in the food industry

9 March 2012

In an informal MEP working group today Keith called for fairer practices in the food industry and examined with colleagues from the European Parliament and Commission the ways in which they can be introduced. The group was joined by Peter Kendall, President of the National Farmer's Union (NFU) of England and Wales, who detailed many of the unfair practices that occur in the UK and Adrian Dally from the Financial Ombudsman Service in the UK, who drew parallels between financial regulation and food supply regulation. Natalia Lazarova from the European Commission also attended the meeting and detailed the Commission's High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply, which included self regulation of the sector.

Speaking at the event Keith said:

"In today's working group, parallels have been drawn between the financial crisis, and regulation of the banking sector, and the crisis of food supply chains, and the regulation of supermarkets. I am reminded of the words of Professor Tim Lang that supermarkets are banks who sell food. What makes the agri-food industry different to the financial sector, however is that we have a tripartite relationship between consumer, supplier and producer, which throws up greater difficulties for tackling unfair practices.

"We need to get over this notion of ‘cheap food'. There is no such thing as cheap food. The cheaper the food appears to be in a supermarket, the greater its actual costs, be that the cost to the environment, or the price paid by suppliers, producers and workers in the food industry.

"Regulation is a key management tool, but voluntary regulation, as proposed by the Commission, will not work. It is about getting a fine balance between incentives and penalties. What is also crucial is the development of local food distribution and processing, so that we encourage sustainable farming which focuses on smarter working and on reducing the number of huge buyers with shrinking margins. We need a fair deal for the 40 million people working in the agriculture sector, and a fair deal for the environment, which so often pays the price for ‘bargain' food."

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