The National Farmers' Union said it was pleased that the government had cleared Morrisons to bid for Safeway.

NFU head of marketing Robin Tapper said: “Farmers will not be thrilled about the prospect of further concentration of retail power in the food chain.

“However, the potential loss of Safeway needs to be seen in the context of the corporate philosophy of Morrisons."

Friends of the Earth said the takeover of Safeway would reduce consumer choice and weaken the bargaining position of farmers.

FoE said the takeover would result in over two thirds of the grocery market being concentrated in the hands of just four supermarkets.

However the group welcomed the government’s decision to block Tesco, Sainsbury or Asda/Walmart from bidding for Safeway.