By NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick

'THE FAILED proposed merger of ASDA and Sainsburys has set the fur flying in Westminster and the role of the Grocery Code Adjudicator has been at the centre of the debate.

At NFU Scotland, we are on record in our belief that the GCA’s powers and remit are insufficient to get frontline producers a fair hearing on the challenges of the food chain. Our ambition is to ensure that farmers and crofters receive a fair and equitable return on the fantastic array of quality food and drink lining the shelves of the multiple retailers.

There is a focus within the GCA on the multi-million-pound relationships between the processors and the major retailers, which is right and fair. However, its remit misses out on the earliest part of the chain involving producers supplying processors or producers suppyling smaller retailers.

We have lobbied unsuccessfully in the past for changes to the remit of the GCA, asking for it to be widened and reviewed. We understand that the GCA’s role will come under statutory review this year, but not the remit.

The spat in Westminster has come about because the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee had the GCA, Christine Tacon, giving evidence to them. She had been asked about the impact the potential merger of the two supermarkets would have on primary producers. She told the Committee she had not even engaged with the Competition and Markets Authority on the matter adding that she did not have the powers within the Grocery code of conduct to do so.

The Chair of the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs Select Committee, Neil Parish, claimed to be amazed that the GCA could not recognise the potential for a new massive retailer, with increased buying power, to impose real damage on our primary producers by squeezing prices to their suppliers.

The obvious conclusion, and it’s stark as far as I am concerned, is that GCA role must be reviewed to match the needs of the industry. At the very top end, the impact of a massive retailer merger on primary producers is not within the current remit and, at the producer end, we are not deemed big enough to be defended from the trading environment we are now in.

Farming and crofting deserve a fair return for the cost and risk involved in putting quality food and drink on the table and recognition for the environmental, landscape management, climate change mitigation and economic benefits that we deliver.

It is more than galling to put all this responsibility and cost on the delivery side when the regulators are not able to ensure that this is fairly rewarded by protecting the primary producers from overpowering buyers."