Supermarket giant Tesco has announced a “sincere commitment” to source more meat closer to home as farmers demanded major stores stop scouring the world for the cheapest food they can find and sell more British products.
The vow to farmers by Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke – head of the world’s third largest retailer – to source more meat from the UK comes amid mounting consumer pressure for more locally-sourced produce and follows the Western Morning News Buy Local campaign which has been reinvigorated over the past few weeks in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.
Buy Local yesterday won the backing of the National Farmers’ Union, when NFU president Peter Kendall urged readers to show their support for the WMN campaign – first launched 11 years ago to encourage consumers, agencies and companies to support their local food producers.
Mr Kendall yesterdayWED told the NFU’s annual conference there had been “real shock” that consumers had been deceived over what they bought, when it emerged burgers and other meat products from supermarkets, caterers and in schools and hospitals had been contaminated with horsemeat.
He said consumers wanted to know food was coming from as close to home as possible, and called on retailers to back British farmers and growers.
Polling for the NFU revealed more than three quarters of people want supermarkets to sell more British produce and many are more likely to buy traceable UK foods as a result of the horsemeat debacle.
Mr Kendall praised the WMN’s ongoing efforts in rising food standards in the wake of the scandal.
“Buy Local is brilliant and need for the campaign has been endorsed enormously by the horsemeat scandal,” he said at the conference in Birmingham. “The one thing this scandal has produced is the determination by consumers to discover what they are eating. We now have seen that it’s no good sending meat right across Europe – because people want traceability and have confidence in what they are eating.”
Mr Kendall praised the South West for its agricultural production – and he said the Buy Local campaign should also mean that Westcountry produce was readily available to consumers in Birmingham and Manchester.
“Local means as near as you can get,” he said. “If I, living in East Anglia, can buy Cornish potatoes first, then I shall.
“That is how producers should be rewarded, not seeing their payments slashed by big retailers because there’s a glut of some product or another because of imports from the continent.”
The first step for Tesco, chief executive Mr Clarke told the conference, would be that all fresh chicken would come from British suppliers from July. The company would move over time to make sure all chicken in all fresh and frozen Tesco products was from the British Isles, he said.
The supermarket giant – which last night began e-mailing customers to say it was “making some real and lasting changes” – also pledged measures to restore consumer confidence including “unprecedented” DNA testing of all beef products entering its supply chain and internet and video schemes so customers can track food from farm to fork.
Mr Clarke said he did not accept the “patronising view” that providing affordable food was wrong and said Tesco was committed to ensuring quality across its range of foods.
The changes, which he said included more support for British farmers and growers, would not lead to more expensive food, he told farmers.
Sainsbury’s accused Tesco of “playing catch-up”, saying all its fresh chicken has been British for a decade.
The company said the chicken in its fresh ready meals, pies, sandwiches, quiches and soups were 100% British, and it had started using British chicken in frozen chicken ready meals.
Mr Kendall added that supermarkets had put damaging pressure on processors to force down the price of food, telling the conference that those processors were ultimately responsible for the “fraud”, because “they should have told the retailers to get stuffed, that you can’t do eight burgers for a pound”.
He demanded retailers back shorter supply chains which source high quality, traceable products from farmers in the UK and for an end to marketing campaigns which dressed up foreign imports in a “homely British-sounding name” to fool consumers.
“We now need supermarkets to stop scouring the world for the cheapest products they can find and start sourcing high quality, traceable product from farmers here at home,” he said.