It could have been a case of supermarket bosses being saved by the bell yesterday, as a division in the House of Commons meant the Efra committee had to cut short its “grilling” on fairness in the supply chain.

But the reality is MPs had failed to land any real blows, let alone expose any behaviour that is likely to result in concrete recommendations that will in any way shake up the status quo.

Instead of any evidence of untoward supermarket negotiation tactics and the impact they have had on farmers and others in the supply chain, we got a lot of hot air, usually amounting to MPs parroting stories from the Daily Mail furious at supermarket profits, or research from Which? angry at the impact of food prices on hard-up families.

Granted, the recent falls in food inflation have somewhat blunted the arrows being fired at retailers by members of parliament from across the political divide. The fact that we are in the last throes of the government has also made the committee’s drawn-out investigation appear ever more like a talking shop.

Probes into supermarket profiteering

But just like the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) probes into supermarket profiteering – also driven by ridiculous and ill-informed claims from cross-party MPs, and which cost the taxpayer millions but resulted in no major action against retailers – this enquiry is headed in exactly the same direction.

“This enquiry has gone on for a year now,” says one industry source. “Thousands of man hours have been invested in good faith, dating back to last July. Over 2,000 pages, involving four select committees. There needs to be an outcome or it is just more sunk cost for an industry asking for help.”

Yet rather than come up with any real proposals to increase fairness in the supply chain, yesterday’s hearing instead saw MPs having obviously done a cursory glance at the House of Commons’ library or a Google check on stores about supermarket fat cats.

“Fairness in the food supply chain was the topic but it was hardly discussed,” says the source. “Why aren’t MPs doing their own research and representing their constituents?”

At one point in the proceedings, supermarkets were even blamed by MPs for causing the massive surge in shoplifting because they had put prices up too much – nothing to do, of course, with the government’s decriminalisation of thefts from shops, which had left thousands of incidents being unattended by police.

MP suggested freezing infant formula prices

One MP suggested supermarkets could help by freezing the prices on infant formula.

Why didn’t Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda, or the CMA, think of that one? Oh, whoops – they already did.

As Rod Addy, director or of the Provision Trade Federation, said recently, the supply chain will have to move past the “fat cat” profit row if it is to make any real progress in tackling some of the real issues of fairness in the supply chain. He argues MPs need to push for legislation that would enable retailers and suppliers to come up with their own solutions.

But that, sadly, sounds far too sensible for it to be taken up in earnest by MPs.