Hobbs's analysis one-dimensional (Letter, Sunday Independent)

Letter by Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which appeared in the Sunday Independent on 9 February 2014.

Dear Editor,

Opinion columnists often pontificate on the lack of direct expertise of our politicians in the policy areas for which they have oversight. Therefore, it was with interest and some bemusement that we read Eddie Hobbs’ polemic (‘Rigging of market will hike food prices’, 2 February) criticising, among other things, the fact that some Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine are actually farmers and primary food producers!

Perhaps Mr Hobbs will be shocked to hear that there are businesspeople on the Jobs Committee, teachers on the Education Committee and lawyers on the Justice Committee.

His narrow and one-dimensional analysis on our recently published report on the grocery goods sector, including a fanciful inference that we want to hark back to the protectionism of the 1930s, fails to reflect a nuanced, balanced and carefully crafted Committee report, which was based on public meetings with a wide range of stakeholders.  

Mr Hobbs contends that we want to influence the price of the average shopping basket by use of ‘non-market forces, by lobbyists exercising power, and not by competition’. Far from it. It is with some concern, for instance, that a leaked document a number of years ago said that Ireland was the ‘honey pot’ for one of the major retailers. Consequently, the rationale for our report was to increase transparency and accountability in all parts of the supply chain.

Our Committee’s report is pro-market and pro-competition, and the Committee agreed that a clear, simplified and robust Code of Conduct which Mr Hobbs finds so objectionable would actually level the playing pitch for each sector in the supply chain. The UK, hardly a bastion of 1930s-style protectionism, has implemented a statutory code and established an Ombudsman’s office to deal with complaints about trading abuses across the water.

As for the cheap jibe about a “Committee stuffed with FG farmers”, the report was agreed on by TDs and Senators of all parties and none, from diverse professional backgrounds, with a view to seeking the best possible outcomes for the citizens we serve.  It was informed by hearings with representatives of primary producers, processors and retailers, including the large multiples, as well as evidence from the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency.

These detailed meetings took place in public, were webcast live and are now part of the public record as the Committee transcripts on oireachtas.ie.  This exercise in democracy and free speech flowed into a series of commonsense, practical and actionable recommendations which, if implemented, will bolster the Irish food sector, maintain a vibrant retail sector and protect the consumer.

While public debate on Committee’s work is to be welcomed, it’s a pity Mr Hobbs undermined his argument by resorting to hyperbole rather than rigour in his opinion piece.

Yours sincerely,

The Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Leinster House, Dublin 2:

Deputies Andrew Doyle TD (Chairman), Pat Deering TD (Vice-Chairman), Tom Barry TD, Martin Ferris TD, Martin Heydon TD, Michael McNamara TD, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, Willie Penrose TD and Thomas Pringle TD; and Senators Michael Comiskey, Paschal Mooney , Mary Ann O’Brien, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Susan O’Keeffe and Pat O’Neill