On home soil, UK supermarket chains are often lambasted for not selling enough British produce. But across the Irish Sea they have come under fire for selling too much of it.

ISME, a trade body for small and medium-sized Irish businesses, has criticised the number of "empty shelves in a number of UK multiples based in Ireland" during the foot and mouth crisis - during which exports from the UK were halted. It said they demonstrated that retailers operating in the Irish Republic had an "over-reliance on food imports" to the detriment of local produce.

As well as attacking the likes of Tesco and M&S, ISME criticised German discounters such as Lidl for importing too much food. "The level of imported foods from the UK and Germany, in particular, has increased dramatically in the last two years, rising 17% and 57% respectively," said ISME's head of research, Jim Curran.

He acknowledged efforts had been made to engage with local suppliers - and praised a new initiative by Tesco to source peppers from Ireland. But he added: "The reality is that a lot more could be done to support local produce and, in turn, local employment."

Retail Ireland, representing the big retailers, said the criticism was misplaced. "The multiples already source most of their supplies in the Republic because it makes good commercial sense," said director Torlach Denihan.