Supermarket Asda’s decision to sell Brazilian beef that failed to meet British farm standards was a “cock-up and not conspiracy”, says the retailer.

The admission was made during a meeting between senior NFU officials and Asda’s commercial and agriculture teams on Monday (12 June).

Asda told the NFU it remained committed to buying British first and it confirmed it had withdrawn the offending Brazilian beef from its shelves.

Asda said its long-term strategy was that the “Asda brand would be British” and it reassured the NFU that it was committed to equal production standards and full traceability when sourcing imported beef.

During the meeting, the NFU also voiced its concern over Asda’s milk pricing strategy and questioned whether the retailer had any involvement in the recent decision by Arla to cut its milk price.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said:

“Asda’s behaviour had unfortunately undermined the confidence and trust of British livestock farmers and dairy farmers, but let us hope that following this meeting, confidence can be restored.”

Thomas Binns, NFU livestock board chairman, said he was disappointed Asda was to continue its policy of differentiating itself as the customer’s champion for price.

But he added that despite the “empty promises” made at past meetings, he believed there was a genuine commitment from Asda to establish a responsible red meat supply chain.

Tom Hind, chief dairy adviser, said of the dairy talks:

“The NFU put a robust message across that the continued devaluation of milk is not sustainable – it should, in fact, rise in price. The NFU believes the product is already undervalued.”

Although he was satisfied with Asda’s insistence that it had no involvement in Arla’s decision to cut its milk price, the NFU remains concerned about the industry’s future.

Mr Hind said Tesco’s recent announcement that it would raise its retail price of milk was welcome and he hoped this would alleviate the pressure on other processors to follow Arla’s lead.

An Asda spokesman described the meeting as “productive” and said it was always beneficial to meet industry representatives face to face.

“We remain committed to sourcing British produce first where possible.”

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk