Retailers must reject short-term price policies

Retailers were accused this week of pursuing meat purchasing policies which are short-term, price-driven and adversarial.

Peter Barr, chairman of the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF), was speaking at the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers' Conference last Saturday, and he insisted that the perpetual auctioning of contracts was squeezing the processing sector and throttling much needed investment within the supply chain.

Barr said that unless retailers abandoned their price and tender approach in favour of genuine supply sector partnerships there would be significant rationalisation in the slaughtering sector.

"Our red meat sector will end with a commodity product, dominated by two big players. This will not be in the long term interests of the farmers, processors, the consumers or supermarkets. More and more imports will be sucked in," he warned.

Barr also suggested that it would be foolhardy to assume that a constant supply of imported product will always be available. "In these troubled and fast-changing times of climate change, terrorism and threats of pandemic human and animal diseases we must not become over reliant on importing our food from abroad," he said.

"Too much cheap imported meat at the expense of our home production, could, in a worse case scenario, mean no meat tomorrow."

Barr illustrated this by pointing to the recent cases of foot and mouth disease in South America and classical swine fever in Germany, While Barr acknowledged there was a need for imports, he warned: "We must not lose our capability to produce our own food, as food pipelines can be disrupted in the same way as oil pipelines."

He called on the meat processors to pull all the levers on 'corporate social responsibility'. "This is about persuading the supermarkets that the lowest price ­approach is socially, economically and politically unacceptable. We have to expose, for all to see, the supply chain mechanisms and practices that rely on abuses of power. Transparency, which you should not fear, will also highlight inequities in the chain."

Barr said the RMIF was fighting the meat industry's corner with strong representations to the Office of Fair Trading.

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