The General Scheme of the Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022 was published in March 2022
Following pre-legislative scrutiny, the Agriculture and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022 (Bill) was initiated before the Houses of the Oireachtas in December 2022. It is currently at Report Stage before the Dáil.
The Bill applies to unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships in the agricultural and food (Agri-food) supply chain. It provides for principles of fairness and transparency, aims to strengthen the position of farmers, fishers and other suppliers in the Agri-food supply chain, and aims to ensure proper enforcement of unfair trading practice rules.
The Bill establishes a new office for fairness and transparency in the Agri-food Supply Chain, known as An Rialálai Agraibhia (Regulator), which will replace the existing Unfair Trading Practices Enforcement Authority as the designated enforcement authority for unfair trading practices in the Agriculture and Food sectors.
Functions and Powers of Enforcement of the Regulator
Under the Bill, the proposed functions and powers of enforcement of the Regulator include:
- Strengthening the rights of farmers, fishers and other suppliers in the Agri-food supply chain by promoting fairness and transparency.
- Price and market analysis and reporting on domestic and foreign Agri-food markets to strengthen suppliers’ positions in the supply chain against larger buyers.
- Increased enforcement of rules governing unfair trading practices and encouraging better compliance, including public awareness campaigns and publication of guidelines and investigating suspected breaches.
- Entry to and inspection of premises, vehicles, land, examination of documents and records, and potentially seizures, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect an offence.
- Issuing compliance notices in relation to a known breach under the Bill.
- Issuing fixed payment notices of up to €1000 in appropriate circumstances and initiating summary proceedings for failure to make such fixed payment notices.
- Referring relevant cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions where the Regulator has reasonable grounds for believing that an indictable offence under the Bill has been committed.
- Promoting the use of alternate dispute resolution mechanisms between suppliers and buyers to settle disputes, where appropriate.
Current Status of the Bill
The text of the Bill was changed following pre-legislative scrutiny, on foot of recommendations from the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Joint Committee). The Bill now includes provision for increased maximum fines of up to €10 million or 10% of global turnover. It also purports to empower the Regulator to acquire information to examine and publish reports on production costs in the sector.
The Joint Committee’s recommendation to extend the scope of the Bill to include business to consumer relationships was rejected (on the grounds that there already exists an established legislative framework for these relationships) as was the proposal to give the Regulator certain competition related powers of enforcement (on the grounds that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission more appropriately hold these powers).
The Bill remains at Report Stage before the Dáil. It was last debated on 10 May 2023 and is to return to the Dáil for one final debate, when it will be expected to pass. It will then proceed before the various stages of the legislative process of the Seanad. Ahead of the enactment of the Bill, Minister Charlie McConalogue has recently announced the appointment of Niamh Lenehan as the CEO-designate of the Regulator.
If you would like further information about the Bill or its progress, please contact a member of our Food Beverage and Agribusiness Group or your usual William Fry contact.
Contributed by Florence Meagher