As Thursday’s St George’s Day marked the start of Great British Beef Week, the farming organisation said there were reports some supermarket retailers had shelves dominated by Irish produce at a time when British prime cuts are in plentiful supply and desperate need of a market.
Beef farmers have been hard hit by the closure of the service sector which includes pubs and restaurants, outlets which use the more high value cuts of meat.
Chair of the NFU Livestock Board, North Yorkshire farmer, Richard Findlay, said the almost overnight closure of these markets, wiped out around 25-30 per cent of beef sales which meant other retail outlets for steaks and joints of beef needed to be found. And the largest of those is supermarkets.
But, he said, one of the biggest challenges has been that the highest volume of products sold through supermarkets is mince rather than the higher value cuts of meat which can lead to what is known as a carcase imbalance.
This means the higher value meat which farmers financially depend on being sold are potentially being held in storage with nowhere to go.
He said there was also the added pressure of Irish imports which, due to the high subsidies the Irish Government is currently paying to support its agricultural sector and with 90 percent of Irish beef exported, meant a large amount was coming into the UK exacerbating the problem for British farmers.
“What is really disappointing is that the shelves of some supermarkets are full of Irish beef joints,” he said.
NFU President, Minette Batters, a beef farmer and co-founder of Ladies in Beef said it was “indefensible” that customers who want to support British farmers by buying British food are only finding Irish cuts on the shelves in some stores. She made particular reference to Sainsbury’s saying the store has a policy that it will source 75 per cent British beef.
“There is no reason whatsoever that this sourcing policy should not be demonstrated in all their stores,” she said.
But a spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said: “We continue to source British as much as we possibly can and any suggestion otherwise is misleading.
“We’re selling significantly more British beef than we were this time last year and all our Taste the Difference and So Organic beef remains British.” The spokesperson went onto say: “To meet extremely high demand from customers, we have increased the overall volume of beef we’re accepting but the proportion of Irish beef is largely the same and well within our sourcing policy.”
They also said the supermarket was offering promotions on premium cuts to “support farmers and to help address the carcass imbalance challenge”.
But while a number of supermarkets buy selected beef products, Mr Findlay said Yorkshire-based supermarket, Morrisons, operated differently buying the whole carcase which was beneficial to farmers.
The supermarket announced this week it would be opening a BBQ and Steak Bar actively promoting steaks and high value cuts of meat.
David Potts, Morrisons’ CEO, said it was a difficult time for the nation and a very difficult time for farmers.
“We’re the biggest supermarket customer for British farmers and they continue to provide very good quality British food in the face of very real challenges. We want to show our thanks for all their work in feeding the nation and encourage our customers to buy British food.”
Mr Findlay said farmers had seen a lot of support from the public when it came to buying British. “We have had fantastic support from consumers. When they have the choice they have generally bought British.”
Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Our members are proud of their record of sourcing British meat and will continue to give as much support as possible to British farmers.
“There is currently an unprecedented demand for mince and, whilst prioritising British meat, some retailers have needed to source from Ireland to supplement supplies and meet this demand.
“Retailers know there is a wider problem for British beef farmers, due to the closure of restaurants and the drop in exports which have reduced sales for parts of an animal supermarket consumers don’t typically buy.
“While retailers alone cannot address all the problems facing farmers, they are doing all they can to increase the supply and promote different cuts of meat in order to help British farmers during this crisis.”
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