EDM tabled in support of farmers' cooperatives

MPs have lent their support to farmers' co-operatives' claim that meat processors are abusing their power by insisting on paying farmers directly.

In response to a row that erupted between Vion and Graig Producers earlier this year, Roger Williams MP, for Brecon & Radnor, has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Parliament in support of livestock co-operatives and marketing groups.

The motion, which raises concerns that moves by meat processors to impose direct payments to farmers would potentially render smaller family farms financially unviable, has already been signed by a number of MPs.

Williams said: “This is a crucial situation for farmers and should not go unchallenged.  It is yet to be seen at the Committee stages of the proposed Grocery Adjudicator Bill whether the new ombudsman will have the power to prevent situations like this in the future.  We need to open people’s eyes to what is happening in the supply chain and redress the balance of power.”

Vion declared in March that it would be paying farmers directly, rather than through the marketing group.

Graig claimed that the action threatended to “rip the heart out” of its relationship with its members, and that it was likely that Vion would only select larger farms as suppliers, which would risk the collapse of many smaller family farms.

Bob Kennard, managing director of Graig Producers, said: “It is ironical that, at the same time as there is a call for producer groups in the dairy sector to negotiate a better deal for dairy farmers, we are seeing producer groups in the beef and sheep sector being side-lined by the big processors.”

“It is this increase in control that we are challenging. Unless government, the public, but most importantly producers, make a united stand against these practices then it is likely that the crisis in the dairy industry – where we have seen the number of dairy farms halved in the last 10 years - will be repeated in the beef and sheep sectors in the next few years.”

Vion insists that the change was implemented to improve efficiency and transparency. A statement from the company said: “Vion continues to maintain a positive, constructive commercial relationship with other farmer marketing groups, which continue to be recompensed for the valued services that they provide. We believe that [direct payment] is more efficient for farm administration, and a clear response to calls for greater supply chain transparency."

The Farmers’ Union of Wales last week stepped in to lend its support to farmers’ marketing groups. Emyr Jones, president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales commented: “Working together gives Welsh farmers a strengthened position within the supply chain, in what is a very competitive industry, dominated by large processors and retailers.

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