Defra minister Margaret Beckett and EU commissioner for trade Peter Mandelson waded into the debate on the grocery market as the industry awaits a decision from the Office of Fair Trading.
Defra has revealed that it will be introducing tough new corporate social responsibility targets for supermarkets, although details will not be released until the imminent publication of its Food Industry Sustainability Strategy.
Beckett, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, told
farmers at the NFU annual conference in Birmingham this week that she was commissioning a special project to help buyers and suppliers adopt best practice. “We want a practical tool that shows what can be done, how to do it and what the incentives are,” said Beckett.
But she said that even if the OFT referred the grocery market to the Competition Commission, supermarkets would continue to sell the bulk of UK food.
“There is no denying the influence that the supermarkets exercise over the entire supply chain,” said Beckett. “So it is imperative that we achieve a more constructive working relationship between the farming industry and the supermarkets, where each better understands the other’s needs.”
Beckett also announced that Tesco had plans to boost British farming and that it was keen to work with the NFU and Defra to bring value to British food and farming. She said Tesco would promote the provenance of British food by region, county and farm. It would also state clearly the origin of products sourced outside the UK.
Tesco chairman David Reid, also addressing NFU delegates, said: “This will ensure that British food and farming products achieve the premiums that producers need and move more farmers away from reliance on basic commodity production.”
But Reid also told farmers that they should not blame Tesco for their
Fiona McLelland & Richard Clarke