Kendall calls on retailers to stop scouring the world for cheap food

NFU President Peter Kendall has urged supermarkets to ‘stop scouring the world for the cheapest products they can find and start sourcing ‘high quality, traceable, product’ from British farmers.

Opening the 2013 NFU conference in Birmingham on Wednesday morning, Mr Kendall outlined his desire for a ‘fair, transparent and safe’ UK supply chain.

While the horse meat scandal was the dominant theme, with Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke due to address the conference in the afternoon, Mr Kendall also sent out a strong message to Defra Secretary Owen Paterson about ensuring fairness with his CAP reform policy.

The NFU president said three initial lessons from what has emerged from the horse meat scandal so far.

“First, we’ve learnt that it’s nonsense when retailers claim they can sell eight beefburgers for a pound and maintain complete transparency about what’s in their products and where it comes from,” he said.

“Second, it’s clear that the longer a supply chain and the more borders it crosses, the less traceable our food is and the more the chain is open to negligence at best, fraud and criminal activity at worst.

“Third, the great British consumer prefers to know they are eating great British food; food produced with passion and pride by British farmers and growers.”

He added: “That boils down to a clear and simple message: we need shorter supply chains which source from British farmers and growers.”

He gave his definition of a short supply chain as ‘farmer - processor - shop’.

Mr Kendall said he spoke for all farmers ‘when I say that I am furious about what has happened’, given the hoops they have to go through to sell meat to UK retailers.

It’s taken British farmers a lot of heartache and a lot of hard work and cost since the days of BSE and foot-and-mouth to get here but we’re rightly proud of what we’ve achieved,” he said.

“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. That may mean more dedicated supply groups. It will certainly mean longer-term thinking and a shorter supply chain.”

Mr Kendall said he was pleased Mr Clarke was addressing the conference and reminded delegates, ‘before we kick seven bells out of the supermarkets, that they remain ‘farming’s biggest and most important customer’.

“It’s worth remembering that 58 pence of every pound consumers spend is now spent in supermarkets,” he said.

He welcomed evidence the big retailers appreciate the ‘the pulling power’ of the message that they are selling British food.

But he called on them to go further than quality beef, lamb, pork and fruit and take the same approach to value lines and processed food ranges. “We want you to brag about standards and fairness too,” he said.

For example, he urged retailers to ask processors whether the milk processors are buying milk from are complying with the dairy contract code.

He concluded: “This is a critical moment for British food and farming – we can either make the most of it, or we can let this great opportunity to bring food production home go to waste.

“I’m for making the most of it. And if we pull together, with a single message, we can make it happen, just like we did with the #SOSdairy message last summer.”

NFU conference 2013

  • The two-day NFU conference will take place at the ICC, in Birmingham, on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Follow it on our Farmers Guardian | NFU Conference page, where we will be posting live updates and stories and videos from the event.
  • Follow our journalists at the conference on Twitter using the #nfu13 hastag.

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