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Minister Smith says Supermarkets' Responsibilities go beyond Consumers and Shareholders

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith TD, said today that the responsibilities of large supermarket chains operating in this country do not and cannot be allowed to stop at consumers and their shareholders, but that they must also extend to producers, processors and suppliers.

Speaking at the International Federation of Agriculture Producers' Commodities Conference in Dublin Castle, Minister Smith also said that "while acknowledging that retailers must strike a balance between value for consumers and a fair return to suppliers and producers, this cannot be done at the expense of a viable agri-food sector, such as we are fortunate enough to have in this country."

The Minister said that the concentration at retail level has fundamentally changed the balance of market negotiating power in the food chain and he described it as "one factor behind the declining share of retail prices passed to agricultural producers."

Minister Smith said that he and his Department had been working closely with the Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan TD, and her Department on the details of a Code of Practice in this area, which will have as its key objective the need to achieve a balance in the relationship within the retail trade. Acknowledging that this was not an issue confined to Ireland, Minister Smith said that he and other EU Agriculture Ministers had intervened on this issue at recent EU Councils of Agriculture Ministers and confirmed that the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Marianne Fischer Boel, has undertaken to complete reviews of anti-competitive practices and of the retail sector and report back to Council by the end of the year.  The Minister said that he "awaited with interest the outcome of the Commissioner's reviews."

Smith said that the continued development of the Irish agri-food sector depended on the support and market access provided by large multiples operating in the Irish market and said that that some of the largest food companies in the world, which started on a much more modest basis in Ireland, would never have achieved their present status had it not been for their access to the domestic market and the support of Irish consumers.  The Minister said that the importance of a sector that supported, directly and indirectly, 230,000 jobs could not be overstated and expressed the view that the sector had the potential to accelerate the country's economic recovery.

Date Released: 30 July 2009