Morrisons has been lambasted by farmers for bringing in a tertiary meat brand under which it will sell imported meat.

Currently, Morrisons gets huge PR value out of sourcing 100% British across its Morrisons-branded beef, pork, poultry and lamb.

However, on Monday, Morrisons launched tertiary meat brand Hemsley’s. Meat sold under the brand “may” be British but if there were opportunities to provide “value for money for customers we may purchase from overseas,” it said.

The NFU said it understood the difficulties faced in a competitive market where consumers were demanding a variety of price levels to suit their needs, but claimed that importing meat came at the cost of animal welfare standards. “Morrisons has always been a keen supporter of British farming and we want this to continue. We hope this is a short-term move that Morrisons will review and reverse at the earliest opportunity,” added a spokesman.

Morrisons defended its move, claiming it would still sell a higher percentage of British meat than any other major British supermarket. “In these tough economic times we have to offer customers the choice of cheaper alternatives but we can be clear that our commitment to British farmers is more significant than any other retailer,” said an NFU spokesman.

Morrisons’ decision is the second hugely controversial move it has made this year in its meat supply chain. From March, it started allowing its poultry farmers to feed their chickens GM feed, after the price of non-GM feed had soared. That move, was, however, welcomed by farmers.

All Morrisons-branded pre-packed fresh meat and that sold on its butcher’s counters would continue to be British, it said.