A spokesman for Morrisons told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We need to offer our customers what they want and the feedback they’ve given us is that they want cheaper meat.”
The supermarket claims it will still aim to source the most of its poultry from the UK.
The spokesman said: “Our priority is to source British meat but to offer it at a lower price.”
However, he confirmed that there would be instances when Morrisons will source meat from other countries in the EU and “possibly further afield”.
He said: “Our customers want the best deals and the lowest prices. We will be sourcing on a case-by-case basis.”
The National Farmers Union (NFU) said the decision was “extremely disappointing” for the industry.
In a statement issued to FoodManufacture.co.uk, the NFU said: “It is understood that the supermarket chain is importing poultry meat from within Europe and marketing it under Morrisons’ exclusive tertiary brand Hemsley’s.”
It said Morrisons had introduced new standards for its own-label British chicken. British producers had shown their commitment to these standards by investing in environmental enrichment measures such as installing windows and perches in poultry houses.
Morrisons’ suppliers had also met the requirements of the Red Tractor Scheme, which will not be required for the imported meat.
NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner said: “We understand the difficulties retailers are faced with in a competitive market where consumers are demanding a variety of price levels to suit their needs, but unfortunately that comes at the cost of animal welfare standards and British poultry meat.
A blow for the industry
“British poultry producers have committed and invested in their businesses in order to supply Morrisons so it is extremely disappointing that Morrisons has made this decision. It means fresh British chicken will be now be displaced by cheaper produce from EU countries that will not have to meet the same welfare standards and it is a blow for the industry.”
Morrisons said it would still uphold welfare standards. The spokesman said: “Welfare is very important to us and we will still have independent assessments. But it’s no secret that price is a massive driver.”
The supermarket defended its position in the following statement: “Morrisons will still sell a higher percentage of British meat than any other major British supermarket. We will buy more meat direct from British farmers than other British supermarkets. We are the only major British supermarket to run our own abattoirs that support British farmers.
“Of course, in these tough economic times we have to offer customers the choice of cheaper alternatives but we can be clear that our commitment to British farmers is more significant than that of any other retailer.”
A spokeswoman for the British Poultry Council (BPC) told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “BPC shares the NFU’s disappointment. It’s a shame that Morrisons should waver in its support for the British poultry industry – hopefully it’s just temporary.”
When asked whether the decision was a temporary measure, the Morrisons spokesman said: “We have not put any timeframe on this at present.”
When asked whether the supermarket would continue to supply 100% British lamb and beef, he said: “It may be subject to review in future but I can’t comment at this stage.”