Immediate action is needed at the EU level to combat unfair and anti-competitive practices right across the food supply chain was the message from the European Parliament today following a debate on imbalances in the food supply chain.

Speaking during the debate, Liam Aylward, MEP for Ireland East and Member of the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development criticised the European Commission and competition authorities for not engaging with the issue to ensure that farmers are not ‘squeezed’ between unfair practices from input companies and exploitation from large multiples and retailers.

“The EU talks about equality, fairness and equal competition in its policy areas, yet in agriculture, one of the cornerstones of the EU, farmers are continually denied their right to a fair return for fair work.”

On the one side of the process, total input costs for EU farmers climbed by almost 40% between 2000 and 2010 and the upward pressure on these prices will rise further as a result of resource scarcity and the growing demand for food.

“On the other side of the process, retailers have used their dominant position to implement a number of tools such as “hello” money, “pay to play” money, payment delays and shelf space pricing which cut away at the returns for farmers and bind them in unfair and unbalanced conditions.” 

“It is clear that primary producers are being ‘squeezed’ from both sides of the food supply chain.” 

“This is about fair returns for fair work.  The Commission and competition authorities must implement measures and take action to ensure that farmer can make a viable living from work that brings added value to the environment, delivers food security and puts the food on the table for European citizens.”

The Ireland East MEP also spoke on the European Parliament’s push for a coordinated EU strategy to halve food waste in the EU by 2025.

“It is a moral outrage that almost 50% of healthy and edible food  gets wasted each year while an estimated 79 million people in the EU live beneath the poverty line and around 16 million depend on food aid from charitable institutions.”

“In a time where food security is a growing problem we have an obligation to cut back on food waste and to make smart decisions as consumers, retailers and manufacturers to purchase, consume and dispose of food responsibly.”

The Food Waste Report outlines how projections for 2020 estimate that there will be a 40% increase in food waste generated – 126 million tonnes per annum if not action is taken.  At present Irish consumers throw out 30% of food bought in supermarkets, at a cost to each household of €1000 each year.

The Ireland East MEP negotiated the Report on behalf of the ALDE group and called in particular for initiatives to recover unsold food and offer it to citizens in need and called on retailers to take part in such programmes.

“To improve resource-efficiency at all stages of the supply chain we need both a coordinated EU strategy as well as sharing best practices across Member States. Most importantly, however, all players in the food supply chain need to be brought on board and help devise guidelines to improve efficiency and minimize waste.”

The Report also asks the European Commission to undertake a detailed analysis of the causes and economic, social and environmental effects of the disposal, wastage and land-filling targets by 2014.