The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it was “heartened” after a chorus of MPs urged the government to support farmers and food manufacturers by providing an industry watchdog with “teeth”.
Terry Jones, director of communications at the FDF, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The Opposition Day debate highlighted the widespread cross-party support for a Groceries Code Adjudicator and we were heartened to see so many MPs call for the Adjudicator Bill to allow third-party submissions.
“Furthermore, the confirmation by DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] minister Richard Benyon that the adjudicator will consider anonymous submissions is welcome and we look forward to publication of the Bill as soon as possible.”
The proposed legislation will establish an adjudicator to monitor and enforce the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP). This applies to the 10 UK retailers and British Retail Consortium (BRC) members which turn over more than £1bn a year, and will arbitrate in disputes between retailers and direct suppliers.
Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary, said she was “dismayed” at the government’s delays to the legislation and called on the Tories to bring forward proposals for the Groceries Code adjudicator to ensure fairness across the supply chain.
Creagh also urged the government to work with the retail sector to provide more responsible, transparent pricing to offer value for money for customers.
Her comments were supported by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George, chair of the national Grocery Market Action Group. He called on the government to “waste no more time” on the plans.
“The call for a supermarket watchdog has cross-party support,”he said.
“To bring about reputational damage is the only way in which supermarkets will be made to change their practice. That additional power will be needed.
“It is important to recognise that not all the supermarkets and those who will be brought under the code object to the proposal. Supermarkets have been achieving record profits in the deepest recession, so to argue that they cannot afford it is rubbish.”
Benyon responded by acknowledging the importance of the MPs' calls and hit out at the previous government for failing to implement similar legislation.
He said: “We agree on the importance of introducing an adjudicator. That is why we have published a draft Bill and are getting on with putting it in place.
“What is rather more puzzling is the position of the opposition, who wasted 13 years without introducing the adjudicator, even though they knew that power was shifting from the suppliers to the retailers and had received evidence on that.”
Despite that, they continued to criticise this government for not having completed the process in 18 months, he added.
The government said that plans for the adjudicator would be pushed through as soon as possible.