Source: Getty Images 

It is investigating how profitability and risk is shared through the food supply chain, following a period of soaring food price inflation and dwindling returns for producers

Representatives from the major supermarkets have been summoned to give evidence to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s ongoing Fairness in the Food Supply Chain inquiry on 30 April.

The probe, launched last May, is investigating how profitability and risk is shared through the food supply chain – following a period of both soaring food price inflation and plummeting returns for many producers, particularly in the farming sector.

The inquiry, which this week heard evidence from suppliers including Arla, ABF, Kraft Heinz and Unilever, aimed to answer whether some parts of the supply chain were “unduly benefitting” from inflation, said Efra chair Robert Goodwill MP on its launch last year.

Many producers and farming groups have suggested the supermarket sector has profited from an imbalanced power dynamic with suppliers, though many producers feared speaking out “for fear of being delisted”, said Lea Valley Growers Association secretary Lee Stiles this week.

“I cannot see any long-term future for British growers without government intervention into retailer trading practices, yet there seems little government appetite to help,” he told The Grocer.

How British are the supermarkets and what’s behind their marketing claims?

Written evidence to the committee’s inquiry by the FDF, published earlier this month, called for a strengthening of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice “to take into account new challenges that have emerged in the nearly 14 years since it was created”, and the need to extend its reach further within retailer supply chains.

This would boost the resources and operational flexibility of the Groceries Code Adjudicator “to ensure it can effectively oversee GSCOP compliance”, the FDF said, citing a marked “erosion” in the resilience of the food sector. 

Responding to the call for evidence, Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said the Efra hearing would “provide a great opportunity for retailers to demonstrate their commitment to UK farmers and manufacturers”.

Beyond their investment in UK supply chains, they would be able to explain to MPs “how GSCOP ensures suppliers are protected in their supply chains and why other solutions, beyond GSCOP, are needed to give the same support to suppliers who are not supplying the major retailers”, Opie said.

It comes a series of protests by farmers over their treatment by the supermarkets and the impact of government policy will continue next week, with a rally including as much as 100 tractors due to take place in London on Monday.

The rally, which will end outside parliament, will centre on the impact of post-Brexit trade barriers and trade policy and the impact of competition from cheaper, lower standard imports, coupled with “a lack of fairness in the supply chain”, said organiser and Wiltshire-based beef and arable farmer Liz Webster.

“We’re at the point where British farming has been sold down the river,” said Webster.

UK Salads suppliers still looking for produce buyers, three weeks after its collapse