Race to the bottom for farmers benefits no one, store bosses tell MLA
Northern Ireland's farmers are caught in a "race to the bottom" forcing many to the brink of bankruptcy, it has been warned.
The Assembly's agriculture committee is blaming intense competition between the major supermarkets for record low prices being paid to producers in the province.
As the Belfast Telegraph first revealed, farmers have been receiving as little as 8p for turnips and 10p for carrots - which were then sold in stores for up to 10 times more.
Bosses from Lidl were the latest to give evidence to an ongoing inquiry at Stormont yesterday.
They said Lidl employs around 700 people in its 38 stores across the province and operates in 26 European countries, with 90% of its own-brand products.
Lidl buying executive Brendan Conway told MLAs: "We see no benefit in a race to the bottom with our suppliers with whom we have good, open and transparent relationships."
But committee chairman William Irwin said: "You talk of a race to the bottom and that is exactly what is happening. Farmers are receiving historically low prices for their produce and many are facing going out of business.
"Lidl is very low-cost to the consumers, which is very good for the consumers, but there are farmers who find themselves in loss-making situations."
Mr Irwin, a Co Armagh farmer, added: "It's all very well to have low costs, but how would you see greater fairness for farmers coming into the supply chain?"
Lidl commercial director Liam Casey said the company had doubled its investment in using local suppliers in the last three years and greater expansion was planned by the company.
"In terms of a race to the bottom, it is not simply the lowest price being paid.
"We require our suppliers and the farmers who feed into the supply to be able to give us a consistent supply," he added.
Questioned by Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson and Edwin Poots of the DUP, the Lidl chiefs said 100% of their poultry, beef and lamb was sourced locally.
And Mr Casey said the company had launched an advertising campaign to inform Northern Irish shoppers that they were often buying local produce at Lidl.
Last month Richhill farmer Joe McCarragher told of his plight of being paid 12p a kilo for carrots, which were being sold for up to 80p.
But supermarket chiefs hit back arguing they had no direct responsibility for prices being paid and pinpointed volatility in global markets instead.