McNamara secures extra time for debate on Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bil

Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara has received a commitment from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dáil Eireann today that tomorrow’s (Wednesday) scheduled discussion of the Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill will be extended.

Deputy McNamara has expressed concern that the Government’s proposed Agri-Food Regulator could be a “toothless tiger” without key amendments being made to the Bill and criticised the limited time of one hour being afforded to TDs to debate the legislation.

Speaking during the Order of Business today, Deputy McNamara told the Taoiseach, “The Programme for Government pledges to introduce a new food authority that will ensure ‘fairness, equity, and transparency in the food chain’. The legislation to do that is coming before the House tomorrow on Report Stage. Twenty-five amendments have been put forward in good faith, the majority by the Opposition but a significant minority by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Bill is being guillotined. Our debate is limited to one hour.”

The Clare Farmer and Barrister continued, “The Taoiseach, before he took office, said that sometimes a guillotine was necessary to get things done. This is the first time the Bill is being put at Report Stage. There have been no long speeches and there is certainly no question of a filibuster. Will the Taoiseach explain to the House why it is necessary to curtail debate on this? In fairness to farmers, surely if they have waited this long, they are entitled to a Bill that will actually work and a regulator that will actually have teeth.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar responded to Deputy McNamara confirming that he would request the Chief Whip to “find another hour or two” for the Dáil discussion.

Deputy McNamara has submitted amendments to the Bill, including one that would require more reporting by processors, in particular in regard the discounts and bonuses paid for both in-spec and out-of-spec cattle and what processors are being paid by retailers and any conditionality, specifically, around age demanded by the retailers. 

“This needs to be taken out of the shadows and light shone on it for the benefit of everybody in the food chain,” stated Deputy McNamara. “The amendment is based on the US Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022, passed by Congress in response to growing concern at the concentration of power in the so-called meat-packer”, or processors, there.  The measures proposed are legally sound as they have survived in the USA notwithstanding the hostility of their processors to it.”

Deputy McNamara has submitted a separate amendment that proposes to enable the new regulator, in conjunction with Teagasc, to determine the cost of production of basis food items, and to ban retailers in the State from selling such items below their cost of production.

“This mirrors a Spanish Law 16/2021, of 15 December, which was also to transpose into Spanish law the requirements in Directive (EU) No 2019/633,” explained the Clare TD.  “While I accept there may be mush wringing of hands by Department officials about such a measure, if it’s lawful and can be done in Spain to protect their producer, it’s lawful and can be done here.”

Another amendment submitted by Deputy McNamara mirrors the Spanish Royal Decree-Law 5/2020 of February 25, 2020, the purpose of which is to implement the same EU law, Directive (EU) 2019/633 on unfair trading practices.

According to Deputy McNamara, “This would allow the regulator to outlay the cancellation of orders of perishable goods at very short notice and the practice of returning unsold produce without any payment, both of which are crippling the Irish horticultural sector. From the perspectives of food security, the environment and basic fairness to food producers, we cannot allow indigenous horticulture producers to be driven to the wall. The Bill offers the possibility to introduce protections but fails to do so.”

He added, “I have also proposed to undo the watering down of the protections introduced by Richard Bruton in the Consumer Protection Act 2007 (Grocery Goods Undertakings) Regulations 2016, introduced after significant work by the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee when I was a member from 2011 to 2016. This was replaced, under cover of Covid, on 28 April, 2021 by Charlie McConalogue and, to date, there has been little discussion of, or explanation for, the row-back of protections for producers.”