Supermarkets under fire over drop in British sourcing

Leading supermarkets have once again come under fire from farming leaders over the volumes of British meat on their shelves.

Farmers are outraged after Eblex’s recently published Beef and Lamb Watch figures for October revealed a further drop in the percentage of British meat on retail shelves.

Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Somerfield have been singled out as particular offenders. From October 2008 to October 2009, Asda dropped the stocking of British beef on its shelves from 64% to only 42%. Similar changes were seen in Sainsbury’s (down from 81% British to 73%) and Somerfield (down from 71% to 61%).

National Beef Association (NBA) director Kim Haywood branded the change in Asda’s commitment to British beef as “disturbing”. She pointed out that when the NBA highlighted the drop of UK meat on Asda’s shelves in September, the retail giant told the press that the figures were “wildly inaccurate” and “totally understated” its commitment to UK origin beef.

“So far there is no sign that Asda has increased the volume of UK beef on offer or confirmed its strenuous vocal commitment to UK beef,” she said. “Among the big supermarket chains it appears to remain, by some way, the least loyal to British beef.”

Asda also came under fire from the NFU, who said that it was “very disappointing” that the retailer, along with Tesco, failed to stock 100% British lamb during the autumn months.

NFU livestock board chairman Alistair Mackintosh said: “I think it is unacceptable that major retailers are placing foreign lamb on the shelves during the autumn months, when domestic supply is plentiful,” he said.

“British lamb is produced to some of the highest standards of quality and safety in the world. Consumers recognise this quality and British producers are ideally placed to meet domestic demand.”

Both the NFU and NBA acknowledged the efforts of The Co-operative, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Waitrose and Budgens, which have maintained their 100% commitment to British meat. They pointed out that even hard discounters such as Lidl and Aldi are close to stocking exclusively UK-sourced meat.

“If some of the retailers can source 100% British beef and lamb, then I don’t see why they all can’t,” said Mackintosh.

The farming groups called on all major retailers to commit to British meat and help reverse dropping domestic production.

“Pledges from supermarkets to stock as much British beef and lamb as possible send out the correct messages to producers to invest in production,” Mackintosh said.

The Eblex Beef and Lamb Watch survey covers 12 retail chains, and 240 stores in total each phase. Store visits are conducted by a store auditing agency on behalf of the levy board.