Michael Gove was grilled on the issue at the Oxford Real Farming Conference last week.
Concern is growing that farmers could be left disappointed by the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) review after Defra Secretary Michael Gove admitted any future change would not be as ’dramatic’ as hoped.
In 2016, the Government announced it would look at giving the GCA the ability to explore unfair trading practices right across the supply chain after pressure from industry.
The resulting consultation has now been closed for more than a year, with no indication from Ministers of how they want to proceed.
At the moment, the adjudicator is bankrolled by a levy on 10 UK retailers with an annual turnover of more than £1 billion, and it only provides legal protection for direct suppliers to those retailers.
Vicki Hird, sustainable farm campaign coordinator at Sustain, grilled Mr Gove on the issue at the Oxford Real Farming Conference last week, saying farmers needed to get a ‘fair deal on trading practices from the supply chain’.
Ms Hird’s question was welcomed by huge applause, but Mr Gove’s response hinted any change to the adjudicator’s remit would be minimal.
He said: “[Farming Minister] George Eustice is looking at it and reviewing.
“There will be change – I do not think it will be as dramatic as some people might like, but there will be some change coming.”
Ms Hird’s call for fairer supply chains followed a demand from the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) for Government to take a stand against processors flouting rules and regulations and using unfair contractual agreements.
George Dunn, TFA chief executive, said recent food scandals at processors exposed by secret filming were ‘galling’ for farmers working hard to achieve high standards.
“The adjudicator must be able to judge whether or not fair trading practices are operating throughout the retail supply chain and there is no excuse for further delay in allowing that to take place,” he said.
“There is no point in driving higher standards in food production at the farm gate if those standards are simply to be undermined when product leaves the farm gate or if unfair contractual terms force UK farmers into liquidation.”