Relationships between farmers and processors could be regulated by the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) under new plans being drawn up by the Labour Party.
The proposal, which is still in embryonic form but has won widespread support from farming and processing groups, will be set out in a ‘Food Plan’ being drawn up by the Shadow Defra Secretary, Sue Hayman.
Earlier this year, Ministers rejected calls to extend the GCA’s remit and Labour’s move is likely to pile further pressure on the Government.
In an exclusive interview, Ms Hayman told Farmers Guardian she was putting the document together so Labour would have a ‘holistic food policy’ in place if Brexit led to a snap General Election.
The plan will cover a range of topics including food production, farmers’ mental health, land use and farm workers’ incomes, with interested parties being consulted on its contents before the end of the year.
Ms Hayman said current Labour policy to give more powers to the GCA would not go far enough to ensure farmers were properly rewarded.
“We have to look at the whole picture of food production, and if we are going to make a difference, we need to cover processors,” she added.
Ms Hayman also hinted at a new public funding model for the GCA, which is currently bankrolled by a levy on the UK’s 12 biggest retailers.
“One of the things I am talking to the Shadow Treasury about is what kind of budget they would give me for this,” she said.
The Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA), CLA and NFU welcomed Labour’s plan.
CLA senior rural business adviser Dr Charles Trotman said: “We wholeheartedly welcome extending the remit of the adjudicator.
“Producers and processors need this vital support to ensure they are protected from widespread unfair practices.”
But while the TFA agreed with Ms Hayman that a beefed-up GCA should be state-funded, NFU deputy president Guy Smith suggested it may be better to maintain the levy model for processors.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BPMA), also said it would ‘do no harm’ to have a referee operating in the supply chain which all parties can go to.
“We are not against it, but we do not underestimate the complexity,” he added.
“You are widening the remit considerably and it would need more resource than the GCA has.”
Labour’s GCA plans were revealed as MPs on the Efra Select Committee called for the adjudicator to oversee the proposed ‘fair dealing obligations’ set out in the Agriculture Bill.
The committee’s recommendation was made in its recently-published report scrutinising the Bill.
Under the Government’s current plans, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) would enforce any new fair dealing rules for first purchasers of agricultural products.
But TFA chief executive George Dunn said: “It would be crazy to give this responsibility to the RPA.
“The only sensible regulatory vehicle to achieve this is the GCA.”
The committee’s report also recommended Government legally commit to ensuring imports meet domestic food production standards and the creation of a multi-annual agriculture budget.