Sustainable food

Supplementary written evidence submitted by the British Retail Consortium

Further to our written evidence and our oral evidence session on 26 October 2011, I thought it would be helpful to expand on a couple of points that were referenced during our time in front of the Committee. I would be grateful if you were able to circulate this letter to members of the Committee and, should the Committee have any further questions they would like to follow up, please do not hesitate to contact the BRC.

Government Food Strategy

As the Committee Session drew to a close, questioning briefly turned to the extent to which the BRC believes the Government lacks a coherent strategy for the food sector. The BRC was indeed disappointed that the Coalition Government decided not to proceed with the previous administration’s work on strategies such as ‘Food Matters’ and ‘Food 2030’. We felt these pieces of work accurately summarised the issues affecting both the UK and the global food market, and were useful starting points for future action. The leadership shown by Defra in its recently-launched ‘Green Food Project’, whilst picking up on a number of the issues raised in these reports, does not go as far in exploring issues which are, by definition, global. The BRC would, therefore, like the Committee to press the Government on this issue and suggest taking a leadership role in Europe, and internationally, to deliver a comprehensive food strategy encompassing sustainable consumption and production, security of supply, new technologies, population growth and the industry.

Groceries Code Adjudicator

The Committee raised a number of questions regarding the Draft Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) Bill and the scope of the Adjudicator’s role. For the record, I thought it would be helpful to set out of position on the GCA and its intended scope.

The BRC’s preferred way forward would have been to allow a period of time to review the functioning of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) before planning further regulation in this area. To date, we know of no disputes under the strengthened code resulting in arbitration, suggesting it is working well. However, given the introduction of an adjudicator or ombudsman was a commitment of the three main political parties at the 2010 election, we accept the implementation of this policy and wish to work constructively with the Government as it develops its thinking.

We are largely in agreement with the Government’s proposals set out in the draft Bill and believe it strikes the correct tone in ensuring the Adjudicator’s role is tightly defined. It should not launch category-wide investigations. Whilst we remain concerned with the practicalities of tracing a problem if anonymous complaints are allowed, we hope these issues will be ironed out in guidance.

During our evidence session, members of the Committee asked whether the adjudicator would have a role in embedding sustainability into the supply chain. Given its tightly defined nature, this would be outside its remit. However, there are many other ways in which the sector is taking this work forward, as also came out in the session.

The BRC is keen to engage on the full range of issues as the Bill is published and would be happy to discuss this position further with the Committee if this would be helpful.

 I trust this clarification is useful. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like further information.

8 December 2011

Prepared 18th January 2012