A group of Irish farmers stormed a meeting of Tesco’s top managers yesterday to demand the retailer stops selling British potatoes at its Irish stores.

Around 30 potato growers burst into a meeting at a Co Meath hotel attended by Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy and 200 managers. The farmers brandished bags of imported Desiree potatoes, which they claimed are displacing Irish potatoes on Tesco shelves around the country.

Irish Farmers' Association president Padraig Walshe said: "Growers cannot stay in business because of Tesco's ruthless pursuit of profit and market share. The persistent pressure on the price paid to the producer will inevitably lead to thousands of job losses and will put Irish producers of local, fresh produce out of business."

The potatoes being sold were identical to Irish roosters that were plentiful in the Republic at this time, and there was no need for them to be imported, he added.

Gardai were called to the scene but the protesters agreed to leave peacefully.

In a statement Tesco said it was "very proud of the contribution it makes to Irish agriculture and continues to be the world's biggest supporter of Irish food and drink producers, purchasing €2bn worth of Irish food products annually”.

"The company's stores outside of Ireland are the second-biggest buyers in the world of Irish food and drink, making the Tesco group a bigger purchaser of Irish food and drink than a number of countries, including France, Germany, the US and others."

Tesco is reported to be worth €2.5bn a year to the Irish economy and supports 27,000 jobs directly and indirectly.