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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Cumbrian farming leader's cautious welcome for Tesco meat pledge

A Cumbrian farming chief says Tesco’s pledge to source more meat from the UK is good news – but not good enough.

Alan Dickinson photo
Alan Dickinson

Speaking at the end of the first day of the National Union of Farmers conference in Birmingham, county chairman Alan Dickinson said farmers might be “wary” about striking a deal with Tesco.

The supermarket giant has pledged to bring meat production “closer to home” and work more closely with British farmers in response to the horse meat scandal.

Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke said it had also introduced a new testing process and that from July all chicken sold in its UK stores would be from British farms.

“In one way I was encouraged by this news, but in another way I’m wary,” said Mr Dickinson.

“It’s a start, but is it going far enough? I know farmers will be concerned that Tesco will be controlling the market, and therefore the pricing,” added Mr Dickinson.

Mr Dickinson was one of 16 Cumbrian farmers who represented the county at the conference. Mr Clarke and Environment Secretary Owen Paterson addressed the conference as part of a programme of changes following the horse meat scandal.

Mr Clarke promised fewer imports of meat from other countries, closer relationships with farmers in this country, and that the supermarket plans its own system for testing products. He said he would also like to see the government come up with a better way of testing food to make sure the horse meat scandal does not happen again.

He went on to say he could not guarantee that a more robust system won’t mean higher prices.

“He said he wanted to source food as cheaply as possible, so they could compete with their competitors. What does this message say to farmers?” said Mr Dickinson.

Mr Paterson said that buying something labelled beef which ends up being horse meat is “fraud”.

Speaking at the conference, where one thousand farmers gathered, he also told listeners “we must ensure the public have confidence in the industry and what they’re eating”.

Cumbrian farmers are battling with floods, disease, spiralling food costs and the horse meat scandal.

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