FDF worries grocery watchdog won't be on guard until 2013

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Groceries code adjudicator Supermarket Retailing Fdf

FDF worries grocery watchdog won't be on guard until 2013
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) says news that the Groceries Code Adjudicator may not start work until mid-2013 will harm innovation in the sector amongst small and medium-sized companies and reduce consumer choice.

The FDF said members were concerned following business minister Ed Davey’s recent admission that – due to a crowded legislative timetable – a final bill to establish the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) would only appear in Parliament’s second session from May 2012, which means the ombudsman may not be in place until mid 2013.

As part of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the GCA’s job will involve policing the Grocery Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP), and FDF director of communications Terry Jones told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the timescale to establish the office had “shifted on a number of occasions already”.

Introduced last February, GSCOP measures include forbidding the unfair levying of costs on suppliers by retailers; limiting the cost to suppliers of paying for promotions, listings and consumer complaints; requiring retailers to serve reasonable notice regarding delistings and explain the reasons for them.

Rule book but no referee…

Jones said the FDF had hoped an official would be in place to monitor and enforce the GSCOP “much sooner, and although we appreciate that getting the legislation approved would take time we’re disappointed another two years now looks likely”.

But with the GSCOP already in place, had the FDF seen any benefits feed through for food manufacturers in terms of contractual relations with retailers?

Jones said: “In theory, with the code in place, action can be taken against any retailer that is in breach, but it places the onus for action very much back on to the complainant and without the GCA there is no impartial policing role. We believe that it certainly reduces the effectiveness of the GSCOP.

“We expect retailers to comply with the Groceries Code of Practice (GSCOP) but do not collect this type of information centrally so it is difficult to say whether this is the case.

Toothless tiger?

Provision Trade Federation (PTF) director general Clare Cheney told FoodManufacture.co.uk she wasn’t surprised by delays in tabling the bill.

“This is rather a naughty comment, but it just goes to show that whichever government is in power, it doesn’t seem to make things happen in a reasonable amount of time. It’s just a farce.”

Another well-placed industry insider, who didn’t wish to reveal his name, said he doubted whether the new code and adjudicator would “make the slightest bit of difference”​ in any case.

Quizzed on whether he thought the new GCA would be toothless, he said: “Well, it ​[the code] was before in its previous incarnation … you can’t control the way business operates by codes of practice because people can always get round them.”.

“If a supplier is happy to contract with a retailer on certain terms then that’s just the way things work.”

A Soil Association spokeswoman said that, although the body supported the adjudication process, it didn’t want to comment on the timing or any delays involved. “We want there to be fairness ​[for farmers and producers within supply relations] but it’s not really a subject upon which we can shed much light.”

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