Mandatory code of conduct a possibility for supermarkets

By Jamie Salter

Supermarkets could be forced into a mandatory code of conduct for all fresh farm produce under a Federal Government push to stamp out mistreatment of farmers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been directed to investigate meat, egg, seafood, fruit and vegetable supply chains.

The inquiry will identify problems and recommend policy options, including a possible all-encompassing Agricultural Code.

Ardmona's Integrity Fruit owner Peter Hall said he was interested to see what would come out of the inquiry.

“When you have a monopolisation of retail outlets, transparency for both the public and producers is something I would encourage,” Mr Hall said.

Gunbower dairy farmer Stephen Brown said it was hard to be enthusiastic about the inquiry, saying it was unlikely to create change.

“They always deregulate the dairy industry and then they always find out it was regulated for a reason and we go around in this endless circle,” Mr Brown said.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the three-month inquiry was a response to concerns about bargaining imbalances and misuse of power by some sections of the fresh food supply chain.

“... there are concerns that once farm produce is harvested or processed and sent off to market, producers have little bargaining power and are at the mercy of the powerful supermarkets when it comes to the price they are paid,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Unfortunately, not all interactions between farmers and the major supermarkets are conducted fairly and in good faith and there are bargaining imbalances and other serious issues that need to be looked at.”

National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the importance of a sustainable supply chain had come into focus during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Inquiries into the red meat, dairy and chicken meat sectors have revealed that too often, farmers — as the first link in the supply chain — face real challenges in their ability to negotiate,” Mr Maher said.

As part of the inquiry, farmers and processors will be able to give confidential evidence to the ACCC.

“I strongly encourage farmers and other businesses across the supply chain to take this opportunity, while it’s available, and contribute to this important inquiry,” Mr Littleproud said.

The ACCC will commence its inquiry on Monday, August 31 and will report to the government by Monday, November 30.