CURRENT competition law is failing livestock farmers, according to Victorian and New South Wales farm leaders.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Wednesday declared it had no evidence demonstrating red meat processors had reached an agreement not to attend the Barnawartha cattle sale on February 17.
NSW and Victorian farm leaders claimed nine processors effectively boycotted the sale to avoid buying cattle under a pre-sale weighing system trial and have called for more action from the ACCC.
Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group president Ian Feldtmann said the Barnawatha incident and the ACCC decision demonstrated that current competition law is failing farmers.
“The (Harper) review of the competition law needs to provide the (ACCC’s) Agricultural Enforcement and Engagement Unit with sufficient teeth to be truly effective.”
Mr Feldtmann said the result of the ACCC investigation was disappointing and that farming groups would seek further action from the ACCC.
NSW Farmers will wait on Senate inquiry findings
NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen said his organisation was also disappointed at the ACCC’s decision but not surprised at its investigation’s outcome.
“We were bitterly disappointed that they weren’t able to get the evidence that they required, because it does seem highly unusual to us that nine processors pulled out of the same sale.”
NSW farmers has been very disappointed with the way red meat processors have been operating and consolidating for the last 25 years, he said.
“We’ve warned the ACC that the major processors have been getting stronger and stronger, and that if we didn’t watch out we would have a duopoly in the processing industry – we are moving very close to that at the present.”
Mr Schoen said NSW Farmers would be waiting on the findings of the Senate inquiry into consolidation in the red meat processing industry in March 2016 before deciding its next move. The VFF and NSW Farmers called for the Senate inquiry after the Barnawartha incident.
No level playing field in Victorian livestock markets
Mr Feldtmann said the Barnawartha incident had shown farmers there was no level playing field in the Victorian livestock markets.
“It’s baffling that all nine processors chose not to compete at the saleyards in February, yet the ACCC are unable to obtain sufficient evidence to make a case for prosecution.”
The ACCC said in its report released yesterday: “There is a fine line between social discussions about industry issues on the one hand, and exchanging information in circumstances that may constitute an understanding between competitors on the other.”
But Mr Feldtmann said: “In our opinion, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and smells like a duck, you can be pretty sure that it’s a duck and there is no fine line on whether or not the duck agreed to be a duck,” Mr Feldtmann said.
“Lack of choice led to the Barnawartha incident, it also led to the way Coles was able to deal with its producers as detailed in the recent ACCC Federal court case.
“We can fight all we want but at the end of the day there is no regulatory body protecting the rights of producers. We are seeing this time and time again,” Mr Feldtmann said.
“It always stops with the farmer.”