Supermarkets are stlll failing to give adequate support to English farmers and the rural economy, according to a survey by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The late and exceptionally cold spring following last year’s washout summer has been piling the pressure on farmers who are battling for fairer prices for their produce.

As a result, the CPRE asked the seven leading food retailers to demonstrate how they were supporting farmers, local food producers and the management of the countryside.

Supporters of rural conservation charity sent more than 7,000 emails to chief executives of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, M&S, The Co-operative and Waitrose.

Despite some welcome initiatives, the survey found that supermarkets could easily do much more to help farmers the countryside, said Ian Woodhurst, CPRE’s senior food and farming campaigner.

“Supermarkets dominate the grocery sector and our food chain. Given this, they need to use their immense market power to support the nation’s farmers, the countryside they manage, and boost sales of local food,” he added.

The survey revealed “concerns” about supermarkets, which the CPRE would like them to address:

  • Local food production – Difficult to ascertain the percentage of local food they stock, making it hard for shoppers to support local food producers. Solution – Shorten supply chains by setting challenging targets for stocking local food with at least 10% of supermarket sales coming from the local area within 30 miles.
  • “Countryside friendly” products – Products that help conserve wildlife or landscape features are not being promoted as well as they could be. Solution – Stock and promote foods such as produce from LEAF farmers, “Woodland Eggs” or “Conservation Grade” cereals, to help to manage landscape features and wildlife habitats.
  • Market volatility – Farmers can receive prices below the cost of production, hindering investment in environmentally sustainable production methods and financial viability. Solution – Pay farmers a fair price for their produce by taking into account fluctuations in the cost of fertiliser, diesel and animal feed into supermarket pricing formulas.

Mr Woodhurst urged supermarkets to take a more “joined-up” approach to farming, local food and our countryside so that consumers can buy high-quality food, knowing that farmers have been paid a fair price, while maintaining the beauty of the English countryside.

“The horsemeat scandal has shown what can happen to the food chain if there is a race to the bottom on price,” he added. “The same lessons need to be learned to secure a better future for farming and the countryside, as well as to boost local food economies.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said supermarkets were “great supporters” of local food producers.
 
“Retailers source the vast majority of products like milk, butter, eggs, carrots, potatoes and beef here in the UK and our members give clear country of origin on both fresh meat and processed meat products so that consumers can choose to buy British if that’s what they want.”
 
Retailers were meeting consumer demand, but ultimately, not all consumers were interested in local produce, he said.
 
“Farm prices are influenced by more than just retailers, as we have seen recently in wheat prices, but retailers pay a fair price to farmers and have pioneered supply chain agreements in milk and other areas,” he added.
 
“There are, of course also support payments for farmers from the common agricultural policy to ensure the maintenance of the countryside.”

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