The voluntary code, introduced last month by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), was designed to improve transparency between processors and livestock producers. It followed proposals made at last year’s beef summit after a collapse in farmgate prices.
“The code of practice is of no interest to the industry at all,” argued Norman Bagley, head of policy at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers. “I wouldn’t urge companies to sign up to it… in my opinion the code would be ineffective and is basically nothing more than gesture politics.”
Six of the largest meat operators – ABP Food Group, Dovecote Park, Kepak Group, Randall Parker Foods, 2 Sisters Food Group and Woodheads – had signed up to the code. Dunbia and Dawn Meats had not committed to the code, which doesn’t cover prices but binds signatories to be clear about their trading conditions. It ensures they give 12 weeks’ notice of changes to terms and conditions.
It was unclear how the code would help large operators remain profitable in the middle of a supermarket price war, argued Bagley. “The code’s authors would be better spending their time identifying more profitable markets for all,” he said.
He also questioned BMPA president Peter Mitchell's assertion that “responsible” businesses would sign up to the code. “Does that mean if you don’t sign up to it then you’re irresponsible?” asked Bagley.
BMPA director Stephen Rossides said the code was a way to ensure transparency along the supply chain and urged the sector – including retailers – to support it.
“Some retailers may ask their suppliers to sign up to the code and operate by its rules,” said Rossides. “We didn’t envisage that everyone would come on board straight away and we still need to talk about the 12-week rule as that’s a sticking issue for some companies.”
Food and farming minister George Eustice also supported the code and said it would provide consumers with further confidence in the food supply chain. He also praised the efforts of the BMPA and NFU in developing the code and encouraged processors, retailers and renderers to get behind it.