Page 12 of the new coalition agreement states that the government is making binding agreements with the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) to strengthen the farmer’s position in the chain. Rutte IV expects a “non-binding contribution from banks, suppliers, the processing industry and retail”. These agreements must be legally guaranteed where necessary. The new cabinet also writes: “We expect transparency from supermarkets about the way in which their entire range is demonstrably sustainable and animal-friendly, including sustainable purchasing behavior and a fair price for farmers. We are investigating how consumers can contribute to making food more sustainable. agriculture could be shaped. To encourage conscious choices, food produced in the Netherlands is provided with an origin label. The government commits itself to sustainable and locally produced food when purchasing.”
Where until recently ACM had to pay attention to full competition, the competition authority is now taking on a new role. In the new market economy, it must ensure the breakthrough of free competition if it serves sustainable and ethical goals. This gives the organization of the new cabinet a new task. In 2015, ACM canceled the Chicken of Tomorrow, a welfare-improving initiative of the joint supermarkets because it would deprive consumers of their choice for cheaper fried chicken. In 2021, that is allowed.
The Netherlands does not benefit from food nationalism
Cees-Jan Adema of the Federation of the Dutch Food Industry (FNLI, whose supporters are companies such as Unilever, Heineken and meat processor Vion, many bakers and vegetable processors) believes that the coalition agreement “shows a clear ambition for a sustainable industry. An ambition that we share and which we as the food sector want to continue to contribute to. This means that all parties in the chain – and therefore also the farmer – can make a decent return with which they can continue to invest in sustainability. Where sustainability does not pay off in the current market that is often Driven by price, I believe that we have an urgent obligation to look at this and work together on solutions.To this end, the coalition agreement offers an opening to enter into the conversation that we must and want to tackle. from an international perspective, more than half of the production value in the food sector is exported and a large number of products on the supermarket shelves also come from abroad. This is especially true for composite products such as many of my members produce. You can easily determine whether a tomato, pepper or chicken breast has been produced in the Netherlands. For many other products with composite ingredients, this is not always easy or simply not possible because not all ingredients can be produced in the Netherlands. That does not mean that such products are less sustainable. In my opinion, a purely Dutch approach is therefore sub-optimal and, if we are not careful, will lead to food nationalism in Europe. I wonder whether the food chain – including agriculture – would benefit from our export markets putting Dutch products at a disadvantage in the same way as compared to products produced in their own country. So there is every reason to discuss this with each other on the basis of the opening offered by the coalition agreement.”
Learning to create value together for consumers and as collaborating partners in the chain is the big challenge
Director Marc Jansen of the Central Bureau for the Food Trade (CBL, the umbrella organization of supermarket organizations) adheres to the line of press release of his organisation: “Cooperation in the chains has become increasingly important in recent years and this will only increase. Long-term contracts in ‘closed chains’ lead to more certainty and stability for both supplier and buyer, whereby mutual trust is crucial.” In addition to the press release, he says that it is not about bare-bones price agreements, but about jointly creating distinction in order to realize the best product “that consumers are willing to pay for”. Jansen emphasizes “learning together to create value for consumers and as collaborating partners in the chain is the big challenge”.
Is there still room for entrepreneurship based on being smarter than others?
Sjaak van der Tak of farmers’ organization LTO Nederland says in New harvest that he is happy that he is being heard about the ‘Value creation in chains’ initiative that he has started together with the young farmers of the Netherlands Agricultural Youth Contact (NAJK) and Rabobank. He is, however, surprised by the words “binding agreements” with ACM. He is also not yet clear on what Rutte IV understands by transparent market forces in the areas of sustainability, animal welfare, purchasing behavior and fair prices for farmers. “May there be no more room for entrepreneurship that is based on being smarter than someone else,” says Van der Tak, “then?” Van der Tak calls the choice to encourage more healthy and sustainable Dutch food with an origin label “interesting”.
In answer to the question ‘what do you like about it? Rabobank director Carin van Huët answers that she experiences a “feast of recognition”. Like Van der Tak, she refers to the Value Creation in Chains project that her bank “has made a strong commitment to over the past year”. Van Huët: “The position of the primary sector is being strengthened and we are working together with the entire chain on a fair price for our high-quality and safe product.”
Banks do not make non-binding contributions
To the question ‘where do you have question marks?’ she says about the phrase “we expect a non-binding contribution from banks, suppliers, the processing industry and retail”, which suggests that banks make contributions that are without obligation, but that “in particular in the propositions and products or funds that Rabobank offers there is no question of non-commitment. We impose conditions on our customers to qualify for, among other things, an interest discount”.
In order to put the intentions expressed by the government into practice, Van Huët says: “Do this together with the sector and especially “bottom up”, that is possible with Value Creation in Chains. A great market initiative to further flesh out together.”
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Reactions to farmer’s position in the chain under Rutte IV – An international issue about learning to create value together – Foodlog