For the first time, Brussels has intervened in the relationship between food producers and retailers with a paper on unfair trade practices presented by EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan. Surely, as the EU has been in a rage for regulation for years as it continues to regulate more and more areas of economic, public and private life, it was no surprise that ‘unfair practices in the food chain’ would also appear on to the radar.
And indeed, there is much unfair action in the food chain. The retail industry sources its prod-ucts on very specific terms, which, of course, are the result of decades of hard competition. Not excessive greed for profit is the driver, but in some cases just survival. Nevertheless, the competition in the trade is carried on the shoulders of the subcontractors. Blackmail is given, hardly a manufacturer, certainly not a big one, can say “No”. And of course, the suppliers to the food manufacturers, here not only the dairy farmers (as commodity producers) are com-pletely powerless against food retailers.
If you believe that Hogan and EU agriculture ministers are set to fundamentally change this situation, you may be disappointed. It is quite likely that a change is not really desired, as it all may well be, once again, alibi policy. Suspicion is appropriate, especially when slogans about “justice” are spent so lavishly. A motto such as “strengthening the position of farmers” can be sold politically well, but is almost a clue for the eventual, often so stupid chatter of national politics. But the main thing is that the country people feel taken seriously by policy, if it should now go back into a milk crisis, the culprit is already defined, it’s the retailers, stupid!
The fact that Hogan is only aiming for a “directive” instead of a regulation shows the weak-ness of his approach. Overall, Hogan’s proposal is not a royal road, nor even a way to ensure a higher share of value added for farmers, because only SMEs are addressed explicitly; Hogan’s plan would not help the larger dairies. Once again, “justice” should replace market, initiative, entrepreneurship, engagement, ideas and concepts.