Morrisons has defended its record on supporting the British meat industry, after the National Farmers Union gave it a public ticking-off for selling non-British produce under its Hemsley’s tertiary brand.

At the NFU conference yesterday, NFU president Peter Kendall urged retailers to stop “dressing up foreign imports with a homely British-sounding name in the hope the consumer won’t notice it’s not British”.

He then singled out Morrisons as an offender, saying: “If you want to know what I’m talking about, just take a look at Morrisons’ Hemsley’s range. Now, I have a lot of time for Morrisons’ on the whole, they do a great job when it comes to buying British, and I’m a big fan. But even taking into account how tough things are out there, this sounds completely the wrong note.

“British poultry producers supplying Morrisons have to meet stringent welfare standards, higher than their EU counterparts. So, what happens? They relax their 100% British commitment and introduce the Hemsley’s range – a familiar name that sounds very like a traditional market town in Yorkshire and conjures up all the positives that go with that, when the reality is that poultry sourced outside the UK, and to less exacting standards, is being sold under the label.”

But a spokesman for Morrisons said the “vast majority” of meat sold under the Hemsley’s range, which was launched in November, had, in fact, been British.  At present, it includes just one non-UK product – chicken fillets sourced from the Netherlands.

“In fact, less than 1% of our total fresh meat sales has come from Hemsley’s products, from outside the UK, meaning 99% of all the fresh meat sold at Morrisons has been British,” he added. “This is a commitment to British farming that no other major supermarket in the UK can currently match.”

At the NFU conference yesterday, Tesco announced it would be moving to 100% British fresh chicken by July. Sainsbury’s has stressed its own British sourcing credentials in response, saying its fresh chicken has been British for more than 10 years.