Asda denies lack of commitment to British meat

Asda has rejected attacks over its commitment to British meat sourcing, branding the Eblex figures on which they are based as “unreliable”.

The retailer is facing fire from the farming community after Eblex’s latest Beef and Lamb survey revealed a further drop in the percentage of British meat on its shelves.

The National Beef Association (NBA) and National Farmers Union (NFU) have described the figures as “disturbing” and “disappointing”, but the retailer claims that the Eblex survey was “flawed”.

Chris Brown, Asda’s sustainable and ethical sourcing manager, said: “Unless Eblex was there all day – from when we first started stacking shelves until the last customer had left the store – the shelf contents will never accurately reflect what we buy.

"The proportion of products on-shelf changes as a result of customers picking up products – possibly even taking British in preference.” He added that Asda sold more than 25,000kg of British beef in both 2008 and 2009.

Brown’s comments have angered Eblex chief executive Rob Lowe, who pointed out that the survey does not pretend to be a surrogate measure for what any retailer sells in volume terms. “The mystery shopping data is published as exactly that; it represents what mystery shoppers actually saw,” he said. “It is a valid methodology, which reflects what shoppers can see when they visit stores.”

Lowe said that the store sample, which is taken over three series of mystery shopping surveys, is robust and gives a remarkably consistent picture. “Most other retailers tell us that the numbers are pretty accurate,” he added.

NBA director Kim Haywood warned that Asda’s “abysmal” loyalty to British beef was a “core threat” to the future of the UK industry. She said the retailer could clear any misunderstanding over its commitment to British meat by volunteering to show exactly how much of the beef it sells is taken from UK cattle and not imported.

The Eblex Beef and Lamb Watch survey, which is carried out at 12 leading high street food retailers, revealed that the total percentage of British beef on retail shelves fell from 83% to 74% between October 2008 and October 2009. Asda was the worst offender, with only 42% British beef and 88% British lamb, compared to 64% and 93% respectively a year ago.

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