The boss of Tesco Philip Clarke has promised to buy more British meat and to introduce more stringent testing procedures, as the National Farmers Union (NFU) warned the horsemeat scandal had brought the UK food industry to “a pivotal moment”.
“We are going to bring meat production closer to home,” Clarke told BBC News. “We do buy some meat – particularly for our frozen products out of Europe – and, if we can, we will bring it closer to home.”
The boss of Britain’s biggest retailer said that change would involve more partnerships with British farmers. From July, all chicken sold in its UK stores would be from British farms.
But Clarke refused to rule out price increases. “I hope it doesn’t mean prices increases but I can’t stand here and tell you that it won’t.”
Clarke also pledged to introduce a new testing process that would ensure that what was on the packaging’s label was an accurate description of the food it contained.The new testing measures should mean meat contamination will never happen again, he said.
NFU president Peter Kendal welcomed Tesco’s pledge to buy more British meat. “Consumers want to trust their food products,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “They want to buy product from as close to home as possible. So when we talk about simple supply chains it needs to be farm, processor, shop.”
That might involve retailers buying meat from overseas – provided “they were really diligent about how they did that”, he acknowledged.
“Agricultural colleges are bursting at the seams with young people who want to come in [to the food industry] and build businesses in the UK. This is a great opportunity to produce more beef in the UK.”
Kendal went on to advise that lamb imports should be reduced and more sourced from close to home.
Meanwhile, he told the NFU’s annual general meeting the horsemeat crisis was "a pivotal moment" for the UK food industry. One of its key lessons was that British consumers wanted to buy more British meat, he said.
Shorter supply chains
“This boils down to a clear and simple message: we need shorter supply chains that source from British farmers and growers,” said Kendal.
“We must make that our collective ambition. But if British farmers are to deliver more of what the British consumer buys, it’s going to take a major shift in the way the food supply chain operates.”
In order to respond to the challenge of increased meat production, farmers needed the support of the government and the supply chain to ensure “all the tools were at their disposal to produce food and create a fair and transparent supply chain – for a home market”.
Kendal highlighted key barriers as being: an alleged lack of fairness in reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the threat to beef and dairy farmers from TB.