Tesco threatened with protests by lamb farmers

Farmers for Action (FFA) has said it will protest at Tesco’s distribution sectors and meat packaging division over claims the retailer will not fully commit to supporting British lamb producers.

The news comes after a meeting was held between the supermarket chain and a selection of farming unions and associations to work together in supporting the industry. However, the FFA was left unimpressed with possible solutions as it only involved a small number of farmers, according to the organisation.

“This year we’ve suffered a massive drop in prices for British lamb,” said FFA chairman David Handley.

“The majority was due to the fact that major retailers were importing large quantities of New Zealand lamb, which was obviously displacing British lamb. Because of the long period they were doing it for, it caused a dramatic drop in farmgate prices.”

Handley explained that similar meetings had previously taken place with other supermarkets, such as Asda and Sainsbury’s, the response to which was relatively positive. However, according to Handley, Tesco “refused point blank to allow British sheep farmers the opportunity to become efficient”.

The FFA claimed the British lamb farming industry deserved more support from Tesco. “We’ve got a lot of entrepreneurial farmers that are trying to improve, they’re trying to innovate, and they’re trying to come out with new ideas,” said Handley. “Every time we seem to take one step forward, we get a major retailer like Tesco saying: Yes, but we can still buy it cheaper and cheaper on the other side of the world, so we will continue to bring that in.”

Out of frustration, the FFA is planning to protest outside Tesco distribution centres and its meat packaging division. The protest was initially planned to take place this week, but the dramatic weather in the north of the country forced the organisation to postpone it until next week.

Handley concluded by saying that the FFA did welcome everything Tesco was doing, but urged the supermarket to show more commitment. He added that farmers needed to have confidence, if they were investing in a product and had the lambs ready for market in January next year, that Tesco was not going to go and import more New Zealand lamb and collapse the market. “Prices would fall out of bed like they did this year, and that leaves a lot of sheep farmers unfortunately working at a loss.”

However, Tesco stressed that the views and opinions expressed by the FFA were not reflective of the whole industry and that, in fact, the supermarket buys in more British lamb that any other retailer.

“Members of our agriculture and commercial teams had a constructive meeting with the North Wales Sheep Farmers group,” said a spokesperson for Tesco.

“This followed a regular dialogue with Mr Jones [a Welsh sheep farmer], national and regional farming unions and Farmers for Action, where we have discussed the crucial role retailers, processors and producers all have to play to ensure we meet the needs of customers and to support a sustainable lamb industry. Despite progress being made, Farmers for Action decided to terminate discussions. We remain committed to supporting UK lamb farmers and providing our customers with the best-quality British lamb.”

At the same meeting, a forward-thinking deal was outlined with the help of farmer Michael Jones.

A new initiative from Tesco, launching in January, is aimed at young farmers, which will guarantee them a cost of production price. According to the North Wales Daily Post, 100 contracts have initially been drawn up, which will provide a direct supply arrangement, in what will be a first for the UK lamb industry.

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