A leading economist in the Republic of Ireland has slammed Tesco's recently announced policy of importing groceries from the UK mainland.

Jim Power, testifying as an expert witness to a parliamentary committee on food production, maintained that as a result of the imports - part of Tesco's price-cutting strategy - the shelf space available to Irish produce was becoming smaller and more expensive.

"Many Irish suppliers correctly believe the Tesco move is the thin end of the wedge and that they will ultimately be forced out of business," he said.

He criticised what he called "the deafening

silence" of government on such developments, warning that they would lead to Irish food tastes, as well as the future of the sector, being dictated by the UK. Thousands of jobs were at stake, he claimed, "but food producers and suppliers are afraid to talk on the record because they will be punished by multiple retailers such as Tesco".

Power urged the government to use its influence with Tesco to reverse the imports move and also called for fair-trade

legislation to protect Irish suppliers.

Another witness, Ciaran Fitzgerald, former director of the Irish Food and Drink Federation, claimed the

abolition of the groceries order, preventing below-cost selling, had been "a huge mistake", which had allowed the multiples to abuse their buying power in an unregulated market.