Supermarket chain Tesco is to begin sourcing more meat from British farms while pledging not to make food more expensive.
The supermarket giant’s chief executive Philip Clarke, whose chain has been under fire since the horsemeat scandal broke, yesterday made a “sincere commitment” to source more meat closer to home after consumer research showed shoppers to be in favour of chains selling more British food.
Speaking at the start of the National Farmers Union conference Mr Clarke pledged that from July all fresh chicken would come from British suppliers.
His comments come after farming leaders demanded that supermarkets stop scouring the world for the cheapest food they could find and instead support the British products consumers want.
Mr Clarke told the National Farmers’ Union annual conference: “Where it is reasonable to do so, we will source from British producers.”
He also said Tesco would conduct a review of its supply chains as part of a genuine shift in how the company sourced the products it sold, and that part of the new approach would be working directly with farmers and growers.
But he said: “It does not follow that the measures I’m announcing today means food becomes more expensive.”
He said Tesco was committed to delivering high quality food at every price, and said that as market leader, it was the supermarket’s responsibility to lead the way out of the horse meat crisis.
NFU president Peter Kendall said supermarkets had put damaging pressure on processors to force down prices, but those processors were ultimately responsible for the “fraud”, because “they should have told the retailers to get stuffed, that you can’t do eight burgers for a pound”.
Mr 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 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.
He told the conference: “If there’s one single message that’s come from the horsemeat scandal, it’s that our consumers want to know their food is coming from as close to home as possible.
“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.”
Yesterday furniture giant Ikea withdrew wiener sausages in the UK after tests found “indications” of horse meat, just days after it withdrew a batch of its traditional meatballs from sale in stores across Europe and a handful of countries in Asia and the Caribbean.
Challenged on whether the commitment to change and monitor its supply chain without putting up prices to consumers would mean lower returns for farmers already struggling in the face of low prices for their product, Mr Clarke said neither customers nor farmers should pay the price for rogue elements behind the horsemeat furore.
And he said that since the recession “prices have become more important, much more important, and that’s led to very aggressive discounting, particularly on some of the staples.
“I can recognise that isn’t sustainable. Every part of the food chain needs to make a return, if it doesn’t the supply chain will break.”