As EU Farm Ministers meet in Slovakia this week, Copa-Cogeca has called for EU legislation to be introduced to combat unfair trading practices in the food chain.

The proposed EU legislation would also ensure a fair return for producers, according to Copa-Cogeca, the EU association for farmers and agri-cooperatives.

Farmers’ incomes across Europe are constantly being squeezed, the Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General, Pekka Pesonen said.

The price the farmer gets often does not even cover his production costs. We need a fair, transparent and functioning food supply chain.

"We believe it is good for farmers, for processors and retailers – and above all for consumers. It is the only way to ensure a sustainable farming sector,” Pesonen said.

Contracts between producers, processors and retailers that are enforced to ensure farmers are given a fair price for their produce and are paid on time would be a way to improve the current situation, the Secretary-General said.

“Voluntary agreements alone do not work. We believe that unfair trading practices can only be curbed by a combination of voluntary codes backed by legislation and supported by a robust enforcement system so that operators are fined when they break EU law."

An ombudsman would impose the fines when the codes of good practice are broken.

"Although there are different different initiatives in place at national level, rules at EU level are needed as large retailers are increasingly pan-European and regulation in one country will not prevent abuse across borders."

Meanwhile, Pesonen outlined that Spain has recently introduced legislation that works well and that it’s a good model for the EU to build on.

"The EU Commission knows there’s a problem and needs to come up with a proposal. We consequently urge Ministers next week to act and call for statutory legislation to be introduced to ensure a fair food chain."

Copa-Cogeca encouraged the Slovak Presidency initiative to focus the informal agricultural council on strengthening farmers positioning in the food chain and combating unfair trading practices with the aim of adopting EU Council conclusions on this in December.