Tesco has announced price promotions on British lamb after being criticised by farmers for slashing the retail price of New Zealand cuts at the height of the homebred lamb season.
The UK’s largest supermarket claimed it sells more British lamb than any other retailer when asked to respond to the disappointment expressed by the National Farmers’ Union this week.
Photographs of New Zealand lamb on special offer at Tesco stores were circulated on Twitter, a week after NFU officials wrote to all the major supermarket chains on behalf of England and Wales’ 47,000 sheep farmers to remind them that grass-fed British spring lamb is now in peak season and is available in abundance.
Defra figures for last year show that Britain was 100 percent self-sufficient in lamb and mutton so the union does not understand why retailers would source the meat from elsewhere.
In a statement, a Tesco spokesperson said: “We sell more British lamb than any other retailer, and we are proud to sell and promote British lamb to our millions of customers right across the UK.
“We know it is a great product and we want to ensure that we sell it in large volumes when it is at the peak of its season. This season we expect to sell more British lamb than ever before and over the next few weeks we are running fantastic half price promotions on British lamb in our stores.”
And Tesco pledged to continue working more closely with British producers. “We are delivering on our commitment to strengthen our relationships with British sheep farmers through our Tesco Sustainable Lamb Group, which currently supports around 200 farmers.
“We are proud of our work together to bring great quality, affordable British lamb to our customers.”
But Richard Pearson, the NFU’s York-based regional director for the North East, remained unimpressed.
“We had the High Commissioner of New Zealand at the Great Yorkshire Show telling the Future Farmers of Yorkshire that China will soon take all the lamb they can produce, maybe then some of the major retailers will regret not encouraging production of this superb Yorkshire product.”
Asda was also running promotions for end of season New Zealand lamb this week, the NFU said. A spokesman for the retailer said: “Buying British is important to us - which is why we support Red Tractor, which is the UK assurance standard that shows meat is British and fully traceable back to Red Tractor-assured farms.”
When photos of Tesco’s New Zealand lamb price offer were circulated on Twitter, consumer Adrian Wedgewood tweeted Tesco and asked: “@Tesco in plain English are you saying that Tesco can’t buy enough UK Lamb to satisfy demand?”
And at the time Tesco replied: “With the large demand for lamb we cannot always guarantee consistent UK stock.”
That statement was described as “ridiculous” by the NFU’s president Meurig Raymond.
Speaking to Country Week at this week’s Driffield Show, Mr Raymond’s deputy Minette Batters said: “This season’s lamb is probably the best we have had in the last ten years because we have had near perfect conditions and better grass than we have had at any other time of the last decade so let’s be honest about it because the consistency of British lamb will be among the best in the world.
“The NFU has been very robust about this and I think it’s outrageous to not support homebred lamb.”
Mrs Batters also discussed other areas of the industry’s concerns as she toured the showground and met some of the union’s farming members. One of those concerns was not how few women were stepping into agricultural careers, as this was an aspect of the sector that was largely being addressed she said.
She told Country Week that there was never a better time for women to explore agricultural careers.
“Mechanisation in recent years had made a huge difference. It’s not about physical strength any more. I think farming diversification has made a huge difference.
“And it’s not just about owning land or getting a tenancy, there are so many other opportunities. We have supermarkets looking for agricultural teams and institutions like Rothamsted looking at GM and the science of producing food for a growing population. So often we talk about succession but it’s bigger than that.”