NFU PRESIDENT Tim Bennett has accused supermarkets of having a “promiscuous approach” to food buying and warned them supplies of British produce will dry up unless things change.
Mr Bennett said retailers and food processors needed to show greater commitment to British produce and stop taking an abundant supply of quality food for granted.
He told an Institute of Grocery Distribution conference this week (w/e Oct 22) that farming was going through a revolution that seemed to have escaped the notice of many people.
CAP reform meant that, from January 2005, farmers no longer had to produce a product to collect a support payment, he warned.
This meant that unless supermarkets and food processors sent out the right price signals to producers they might simply not bother to grow crops or rear animals.
“If the price signals and long-term arrangements aren‘t right, farmers won‘t produce,” he said.
“And there will be no use in complaining in two years‘ time that there is not enough product available.”
Mr Bennett said some people would take the view that if British farmers could not supply food at the cheapest price possible, then supermarkets could just import it.
But he warned: “This could be a risky move in the long term. We know that customers prefer to buy British when in season and when competitive on quality and price.
“We also recognise that the logistics, due diligence and assurance requirements make sourcing from the UK the more preferable option.”
Food buyers had to recognise that cheaper imported products, which were often used as a stick to beat down prices, might not be produced to the same high standards, he said.
“It seems that for some businesses fair trade only applies to a few selected well-publicised commodities from least developed countries.
“My challenge to all food buyers is that fair trade should apply to all primary agricultural commodities, irrespective of provenance, and that it is as important to develop fair trade principles in this country as it is abroad.”
But Mr Bennett also acknowledged that British farmers needed to improve their communication and persuade consumers that they wanted to buy home-grown food.
One way of doing this was through the Little Red Tractor logo, which was recognised by 40% of consumers but understood by a much smaller percentage.
The NFU had launched its “promises campaign” where farmers will make pledges about the sort of objectives and measures they adopt in producing food, he said.
“We need to be able to give a clear simple message to consumers that products bearing the Little Red Tractor logo are produced to the exacting standards of safety, agricultural practice and with regard for the environment.”