Supermarkets must stop scouring the world for the cheapest food they can find and sell more British products that consumers want, farmers demanded yesterday in the wake of the horse meat scandal.
National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall said there had been “real shock” that consumers had been deceived over what they bought.
He told the NFU’s annual conference that 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 that more than three quarters of people want supermarkets to sell more British food and many are more likely to buy traceable British produce as a result of the horse meat debacle.
Responding to the pressure put on supermarkets since contamination of meat products, in a tangled supply chain that stretched across Europe, emerged last month, Tesco announced a “sincere commitment” to source more meat closer to home.
The supermarket giant unveiled a series of measures to restore consumer confidence and deliver a shorter, more transparent supply chain, but insisted the changes would not push up prices for customers.
Mr Kendall said that supermarkets had put damaging pressure on processors to force down the price of food, but 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.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson labelled the horse meat scandal “a conspiracy to defraud the public that goes right across Europe” with criminal elements involved. He said British food should be recognised for its rigorous traceability and standards and UK farmers should not be tarnished as a result of the fraudulent activities of criminals.
Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke said that as a first step to source more meat from the UK, 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 also pledged a series of measures to restore consumer confidence including “unprecedented” DNA testing of all beef products entering its supply chain and internet and video schemes to help customers track their food from farm to fork.
Sainsbury’s accused Tesco of “playing catch-up”, saying all its fresh chicken has been British for a decade.
A worker handles animal carcasses at the Doly-Com abattoir, one of the two units checked by Romanian authorities in the horse meat scandal. The National Farmers’ Union has urged supermarkets to source more food from Britain and stop scouring the world for the cheapest food they can find