Creating a fair food chain with co-operation

30 Apr 2012

Co-operatives in Europe are working towards a fair and competitive food supply chain, according to a panel of European Union representatives.
 
The EU is currently debating reform to the Common Agriculture Policy, which provides guidance for farmers across the continent, and the main focus is how to create a more sustainable food chain, according to Mario Campli, President of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment (NAT) at the European Economic and Social Committee.
 
At a joint conference on 24 April, organised by Euro Coop (consumer co-operatives) and COGECA (agri-co-operatives) in Brussels, entitled ‘Co-operatives working towards a fair and competitive food supply chain’, Mr Campli said: “We have a mission which is to continually improve this food supply chain, which will represent values and there are two objectives here; fair and competitive, which will help to create an identity for co-operatives.”
 
As part of Co-operative Week in Europe (23 to 27 April), Mr Campli, who told delegates he is close to agricultural co-operatives, added that in the International Year of Co-operatives, farmers should have a form of democracy in their business.
 
Claire Bury, Director at Directorate E (Services), backed the idea of integrating co-operative values and principles into the supply chain. Ms Bury said: “The founding fathers of the Equitable Pioneers, in Rochdale, who founded the principles of co-operative movement, brought social conscious into business, which echoes very loudly into the world. These principles are still relevant and make business sense.”
 
Ms Bury commented that the growth of co-operatives has helped to head off some unfair commercial practices across the EU, but the current market still has “detrimental” effects on smaller business.
 
In the debate on the CAP reform, Ms Bury encouraged further participation from co-operatives across Europe, she added: "Please continue to generate ideas in line with the traditional creative spirit of co-ops. You're in the limelight now and it is your chance to make a change, even though you have been making changes for the past century and a half."
 
Jesper Wulff Pedersen, Agriculture Minister Counsellor for Denmark to the EU, said European lawmakers should take into account the unique structure of agri-food co-operatives otherwise they risk “restraining” the growth of the sector. He said co-operatives should be respected for the bottom-up approach of business, based on the principle of democratic and voluntary participation of farmers and consumers.
 
Commented Mr Wulff Pedersen: “Heavy regulation and a top-down approach will not create well functioning co-operatives, but on other hand it is very important that a single market has legal framework for competition, but flexible enough for co-operatives to operate.”
 
• To contribute your views on the CAP reform, contact Chiara Tomalino, Food Policy Adviser, Euro Coop for consumer co-operatives (ctomalino@eurocoop.coop); and, for agri-co-operatives, Paulo Gouveia, Director of General Affairs (paulo.gouveia@copa-cogeca.eu).
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