Ricardo Migueláñez. Agricultural Engineer @rmiguelanez
The Agency for Food Information and Control (AICA) is an autonomous entity of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (MAGRAMA) responsible for overseeing compliance with the Law to improve the functioning of the food chain in terms of commercial transactions, i.e. sales and purchases of foods and raw materials between farmers and stockbreeders, food and beverage producers and agri-food sector distributors.
R.M.- The Agency for Food Information and Control is fully operational. How would you describe its performance to date?
J.M.H.- Since its creation in January 2014, AICA has become a leader for the sector. In the last 18 months, the entity has become operational, adapting to the functions granted under the law, approving its bylaws, and establishing its control plans to conduct the necessary inspections with a view to ensuring compliance with the law. AICA has investigated, penalized and intensely disseminated the content of the law to raise awareness about the new rights and obligations of food chain operators in their commercial relationships.
Overall, its implementation is indubitably positive. Ever since the Control Plan was approved and, therefore, inspections were authorized to begin, 2,000 commercial transactions by 555 companies have been monitored, in the distribution, industry and producer segments. As a result of those inspections, 110 disciplinary proceedings have commenced, which account for 20% of the inspections conducted. There have been 10 penalization proposals to date, but there will be more in the coming months, as there are 87 disciplinary proceedings under way.
The Agency is very active. Every day it's performing inspections, reviewing documentation, and processing files.
R.M.- How is the AICA structured?
J.M.H.- AICA is an autonomous entity of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment. It has a participatory Advisory Council chaired by the General Secretary of Agriculture and Food and includes all sections of the food chain as well as the public administrations, from the Spanish central government to regional governments.
AICA has a staff of 80 people in four units: Management, General Secretariat, the Food Chain Control Unit, and the Markets and Inspection Information Unit. All of us who work at the Agency act in accordance with our values: intensity, service, proximity, dialogue, empathy, and openness, which makes AICA an entity that monitors commercial relations; safeguards the interests of every part of the food chain; listens and is available and willing to help; and offers solutions, guaranteeing confidentiality.
R.M.- Who's the greatest source of pressure, farm unions and industry with their claims or the distribution sector with its allegations?
J.M.H.- I don't like to use the word "pressure". At AICA, we listen to, and monitor, everyone.
The Agency is a tool at the service of food chain companies, of all companies, including producers, industry and distribution. We're there to ensure that commercial transactions are performed in accordance with the law, avoiding unfair and abusive practices. AICA doesn't act in favor of or against anyone; it is wholly inclusive. We go wherever we're called, regardless of who asks us for help. AICA is an ally that helps ensure that the law is upheld.
Until now, the bulk of claims have come from professional farm organizations, as well as from regional governments. Anyone can file a claim. In fact, it's the fastest way for AICA to act effectively, since it allows us to focus directly on the problem.
AICA will always act in line with the highest standards, guaranteeing legal security for all parties at all times.
R.M.- In theory, the sectors most often involved have been milk and olive oil. The other sectors don't have issues?
J.M.H.- During AICA's first year, trade inspections were focused on four sectors: fruits and vegetables, chicken meat, bottled liquid milk, and bottled olive oil. However, despite focusing on those areas, AICA is capable of performing inspections in all segments.
In fact, we've received claims from a range of sectors, including dairy, fruit, olive oil, potatoes, wine, rabbit, paprika, chicken, olives and beef.
AICA investigates all of the claims presented, regardless of the sector. Our Control Plan is flexible and adapts as a function of the claims received.
R.M.- Many people are skeptical about the application of the Law to Improve the Functioning of the Food Chain. What would you tell them to change their minds?
J.M.H.- The law is a reality. Thanks to its approval, the rules of the game have changed with respect to commercial relations. It's a tool that has been placed at the disposal of the sector to protect its interests, and the sector should take advantage of it. It's no longer a situation where "anything goes".
The most notable aspect of the law for the agri-food sector is the requirement that contracts be in writing and include a specific price and clear payment conditions. If the law is not complied with, there will be penalties. AICA is there to make sure that everyone fulfills his or her obligations. We act on the claims submitted, but we also act when appropriate, where there are reasonable signs that the law is being breached. Accordingly, the information provided by the sector itself is vital, as it ensures that investigation by the AICA is more focused and effective.
I believe that the work we've been doing over the last 18 months validates our efforts and gives us credibility.
Code of Best Mercantile Practices in Food Sector Hiring
Representative associations in the production, industry and processing segments have worked to draft the Code of Best Mercantile Practices in Food Sector Hiring, informing the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment of their progress. A draft is available at present, and is being analyzed by the administrations involved with a view to its subsequent approval.
The Code will establish the principles on which commercial relations between the various operators in the chain must be based so as to facilitate the development of contractual relations and ensure best practices.
Among other aspects, it addresses issues such as contractual duties, management of categories, mediation, and communication between operators. Likewise, with a view to maintaining the Code's content up-to-date, an Oversight Committee will be created comprising the Ministries of Agriculture, Food and the Environment, and Economy and Competitiveness, as well as representatives from the different parts of the food chain.