Farmers look for consumer support

Farmers have highlighted a claim that 72 per cent of shoppers want to be able to buy British beef and lamb, and 80 per cent believe supermarkets should be offering farmers a fair deal as a new campaign gets underway.

As consumer and environmental organisations join forces with the NFU today to launch a campaign to highlight the importance of Britain's threatened beef and lamb sector, a report has shown 72 per cent of shoppers want to be able to buy British beef and lamb, and 80 per cent believe supermarkets should be offering farmers a fair deal.

In a show of strength to harness consumer support, the NFU, together with The Townswomen's Guild, the Women's Food and Farming Union, the National Council of Women, the English Beef and Lamb Executive (Eblex), The Campaign to Protect Rural England and Farmers Guardian, is launching 'Why beef and sheep farming matters' aimed at raising awareness of the current crisis facing the sector and encouraging people to buy British.

The campaign is calling for a fair price for beef and sheep farmers. They claim unless price at the farm gate increases, British dishes such as a traditional Sunday roast or shepherds pie could have to be made using imported meat.

And with beef and sheep farmer numbers falling by 12,500 in the last 10 years, not only will consumers be unable to buy British, but the landscape will suffer as a consequence, with upland landscapes such as Dartmoor, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lakeland Fells most at risk from under-grazing and agricultural dereliction.

NFU President Peter Kendall said: "It doesn't surprise me at all that the vast majority of consumers want to buy British beef and lamb. But the plain fact is that unless farmers' prices start to rise, to fill the yawning gap between what it costs to produce beef cattle and sheep and what farmers are paid for them, British beef and lamb will become niche products.

"That will be bad for consumers, bad for farming, bad for employment in the meat industry and bad for the countryside. That is why we are calling on people who care about where their beef and lamb comes from, and the countryside where it is produced, to put pressure on the supermarkets to start the process of lifting farmers' prices to a sustainable level."

NFU livestock board chairman Thomas Binns told the press conference at which the campaign was launched that the fact that market prices had failed to rise to fill the gap in incomes left by the removal of production subsidies in the 2005 reforms of the CAP was already causing a steep decline in numbers of beef cattle and lambs.

"Since 2004, the beef herd in England has fallen by 11 per cent and the sheep breeding flock by over 10 per cent. Even more worrying for the future is the decline in the number of younger beef cattle in the pipeline - down by 15 per cent in just four years.

"And these figures are taken from the June 2007 agricultural census - before the devastating outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and bluetongue, and the impact which they are bound to have had, on sheep numbers especially."

TV chef Jamie Oliver has also thrown his weight behind the campaign, calling on shoppers to buy more British beef and lamb and create meals which are both healthy and versatile. He said: "Now is time for a call to action to help our British farmers. It's been a tough year for them and for many it's just getting worse."

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