A committed food ombudsman will not be identified as an ombudsman or regulator and will not investigate antitrust-like behavior in the food industry.
The establishment of a food ombudsman office was a commitment under the government program and was intended to provide a solution to food industry disputes such as those that arose during the 2019 beef protests.
The new body will instead be called the Office for Fairness and Transparency, with the aim of creating “principles of fairness and transparency in the agricultural and food supply chain”.
New legislation underpinning the office was considered by the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee last week, with Agriculture Secretary Charlie McConalogue telling his members that “the important thing here is the effectiveness of the office and the work, which is not necessarily the title”.
He said during the consultation process for the new laws it had become clear that the use of the word ‘ombudsman’ was not ‘appropriate’ and explained that legislation already exists to prevent its overuse, particularly by bodies that do not exercise the functions of an ombudsman.
Sein Fein Agriculture spokesman Matt Carthy said at the hearing that one of the reasons farmers had applied for a bureau was to investigate farmers’ complaints about cartel-like behavior by processors or retailers, adding that the current competition authorities ( CCPC) “clearly not up to par” on this task’
“They got complaints and didn’t even go to the processors. You actually went back to the farmers and told them that if you don’t find the evidence, there’s nothing we can do. Whose job is it to find the evidence?” he asked.
Minister McConalogue said the new office will bring transparency to the supply chain and be a body that can speak and “act authoritatively” on this matter. Competition law, he said, is a matter for the CCPC.
“The important thing about cartel-like behavior is that people come together to keep things (prices) lower than they should be.
“An office like the one proposed can provide insight into what is going on in the supply chain, can help and provide reports and recommendations to the CCPC and the Department.
“Something like cartel-like behavior is punishable and must be proven,” said the minister.
The decision not to include a ban on selling below cost in the new legislation was also discussed at the hearing, with the Minister pointing out that such a measure had previously been attempted in Ireland and failed.
“If you restrict what price something can be sold for, that doesn’t prevent buyers of that product from pressurizing buyers in any way they can.
“When you talk to agricultural producers, they want to ban buying their produce below cost. We are trying to build a healthier supply chain that respects the primary producer and is able to implement codes of conduct,” he said.
The new office will have a board of directors to consist of a chairman and five titular members, two of whom will be primary producers.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/agri-business/agri-food/new-food-office-wont-be-called-ombudsman-or-regulator-41813045.html The new food authority will not be called “Ombudsman” or “Regulatory Authority”.