That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to establish an office of National Food Ombudsman as part of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission; to enable the holder of that office to mediate and investigate disputes between, on the one hand, relevant grocery goods undertakings engaged in the retail or wholesale of grocery goods in the State and, on the other hand, suppliers of those goods; and to provide for related matters.
I am delighted to introduce the National Food Ombudsman Bill 2017, thereby fulfilling a Fianna Fáil pledge in our manifesto for the 2016 general election. A fair return for primary producers is a central plank of the agricultural policy of Fianna Fáil and is vital to the long-term survival and success of the horticulture, beef, sheep, liquid milk, peak, tillage and poultry sectors. The Bill proposes to amend consumer law to provide for a food ombudsman and the protection of primary producers in national law. It also signals how my party is putting forward measures to safeguard the position of farmers in the food chain, in particular as we approach a hard Brexit.
Fianna Fáil is committed to protecting and developing agriculture for the 140,000 farming families in Ireland as the main driver of the rural economy and custodians of the Irish countryside. The agrifood sector is not only Ireland's most important indigenous industry, it also lies at the heart of social and economic life throughout much of our country. Clear imbalances are undermining its long-term sustainability. Especially important is the manner in which family farms are finding it increasingly difficult to receive fair prices for their produce. Action is now required to ensure that producers can earn a decent living as part of a dynamic and innovative sector. The future of the family farm unit and long-term food security is reliant on producing goods at a profit. Farmers are currently struggling to make a sustainable income in the face of ongoing price erosion by large multiple retailers.
The proposals in the Bill will give a legislative basis for the first time for an office of national food ombudsman. The Bill would establish an office of national food ombudsman as part of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, to enable the holder of that office to mediate and investigate disputes between relevant grocery goods undertakings engaged in the retail or wholesale of grocery goods in the State and suppliers of those goods, and provide for related matters. This will ensure that suppliers that may be subject to any unfair trading practices by retailers or wholesalers would have direct recourse to an independent food ombudsman within the CCPC.
The office holder would retain the power of the CCPC, which would include investigating and resolving disputes relating to the grocery goods and undertaking regulations. Where the regulations are found to be breached, the ombudsman will be empowered to commence investigations which could result in fines and penalties. The National Food Ombudsman Bill 2017 will safeguard a fairer future for farmers, ensuring that primary producers' position is strengthened in the food chain with direct recourse to an independent ombudsman. Fianna Fáil will continue to fight to support our rural communities which are being left behind. I look forward to introducing the Bill in Private Members' time and encourage Deputies across the floor of the House to support this farmer focused Bill.