MPs have slammed representatives from the major supermarkets for claiming they take local sourcing seriously. Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda, Safeway, the Co-operative Group and Netto were witnesses as the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Select Committee investigated the future of UK agriculture. Issues facing the food chain, including pricing, organics, GM foods, food miles and CAP reform were scrutinised, with the balance of power between farmers, processors and supermarkets central to the debate. The committee's probe is not connected to the Curry Report, but like Curry it also focused on local sourcing. Claims by Sainsbury director of food Ian Merton, Tesco corporate affairs director Lucy Neville-Rolfe and Asda business unit director Penny Coates, about the importance of local sourcing, were dismissed by the MPs. Former agriculture secretary Gillian Shephard demanded to know what percentage of customers actually ask for local sourced produce: "Local is a mantra at the moment, but is there huge demand? That is what I want to know, and you are paid to know the answer. "Is the noise about local sourcing just political correctness by the supermarkets?" None of the witnesses could provide hard statistics to quantify customer demand for locally produced food. Neville-Rolfe said: "Customers are most concerned about food safety. A survey on customer concerns in Northern Ireland put local production ninth on the list." MP Eric Martlew then went on the offensive to find out what proportion of total produce was sourced locally. Merton admitted: "Sainsbury sources 3,000 local lines, out of 20,000 altogether, worth £60m a year out of a turnover of £14bn." Martlew said: "That is a tokenistic gesture. Is that supposed to be a serious attempt at local sourcing?" Safeway communications director Kevin Hawkins, Co-op government relations manager Katherine Walters and Netto fresh meat buyer Simon Hughes were grilled by the committee during a second session. Hughes said Netto did not have any local buying policies, while Hawkins and Walters agreed health and safety red tape was a deterrent to buying from small local suppliers. Hawkins said: "We are not interested in low volume items as we have to get all suppliers up to due diligence standards, however small they are." {{NEWS }}