Coles, Woollies' 'bully tactics' threaten food production
14/05/2012 - The "bully-boy tactics" of Coles and Woolworths are threatening the future of Australian food production, Australian Workers' Union boss Paul Howes says. David Beniuk
Howes has told a national conference of vegetable growers in Hobart the two big supermarket chains, with their price wars and ability to dictate contract terms, are among the biggest threats to the food sector.
"The bully-boy tactics of the supermarket chains might bring lower prices for consumers - at least in the short term - but those prices at the checkout come with increased risks," he said.
Those risks included food quality and safety, future price rises because of more imports, and Australia's food security, Howes said.
The AWU had made a submission to a Senate committee arguing that Coles and Woolworths had too much power because they were acting both as producers and retailers, he said.
"They have cornered the Australian market with their own private labels, typically sourced and manufactured overseas," Howes said.
"They put their own brands on the shelf, not because they are better quality, not because they are necessarily cheaper, not because there is huge demand from consumers, but they do it to increase their profits.
"They are driving independent brand manufacturers out of the market or offshore."
Howes pledged the AWU's support for any campaign to inform consumers about the situation.
"The pollies will do it if they have the pressure to do it from the general public," he said.
The federal government needed to study Australia's food security rather than blindly relying on international markets.
"While we can live without iPhones, we certainly can't live without food in our stomachs," Howes said.
He admitted it had "raised eyebrows" that a union boss was delivering the keynote address at a farmers' conference, and sought to reassure his audience about his pro-business credentials.
"I'm a dig-it-up, chop-it-down, pave-over-it sort of guy," he said.
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