Supermarkets must stop scouring the world for the cheapest food they can find and support the British products consumers want, farming leaders urged amid the horse meat scandal.
Speaking at the annual National Farmers’ Union conference, president Peter Kendall said there had been “real shock” that consumers had been deceived over what they buy, when it emerged burgers and other meat products had been contaminated with horse meat.
He said supermarkets had put damaging pressure on processors to force down the price of food, but those processors were ultimately responsible for the “fraud” against consumers, because “they should have told the retailers to get stuffed, that you can’t do eight burgers for a pound”.
He called on retailers to 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.
Mr Kendall criticised Morrisons for their “Hemsley” range, which he said sounded like a traditional market town in Yorkshire but used poultry imported from abroad and produced to less exacting welfare standards than the supermarket demands of British suppliers.
His comments came as Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke vowed to bring meat production “closer to home” and work more closely with British farmers as part of a raft of changes in response to the scandal.
Tesco has introduced a new testing process so customers can be sure that what is on the label is in the product, he said, and from July all chicken meats sold at Tesco’s UK stores will come from British farms.
Mr Kendall said: “If there’s one single message that’s come from the horse meat scandal, it’s that our consumers want to know their food is coming from as close as home as possible.”
Speaking at the conference in Birmingham, he said that within eight years, there would be another four and a half million people in the UK, “more than four Birmingham’s worth of extra mouths to feed”, and if everyone were to have the opportunity to buy British, the supply chain had to start getting things right today.
“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.”
Before the conference started he told journalists: “There’s been a real shock that people have been deceived about what they buy.”
He said the public was facing financial pressures, so price was important, but the long, convoluted journey their food made around the world had shocked people.
“It’s not as if it’s nuts and bolts, pots and pans or mobile phones - this is our food,” he said.
He added: “I’m convinced that putting price pressure on processors is damaging, but that’s no excuse for fraud.
“People who have engaged in this fraud are ultimately responsible, they should have told the retailers to get stuffed, that you can’t do eight burgers for a pound.”