The NFU has challenged Tesco to explain its lamb sourcing policy after it was found to be the only major retailer whose British lamb facings had decreased over the last 12 months.
The UK’s largest retailer had the lowest percentage of British lamb facings at just 50%, according the AHDB Beef and Lamb’s June 2017 shelf watch survey.
The survey, which covertly investigates 150 stores from the UK’s 10 largest supermarkets, found that Tesco’s British lamb facings had fallen by a quarter since the levy board’s last survey in January and were 15% down compared with 12 months ago.
Facings are the number of items sitting horizontally on retailer shelves.
Asda and Sainsbury’s had the next lowest British lamb facings, both on 61%, but had increased these figures compared with 12 months ago, by 21% and 10% respectively.
The NFU criticised Tesco three years ago for failing to meet a commitment made by the then CEO of Tesco, Philip Clarke, to source more of its food closer to home in light of the horsemeat scandal in 2013.
But, according to NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe, the supermarket hadn’t shown any meaningful aspiration to support British lamb in peak season.
“Over three years have passed and little has changed on this front,” said Mr Sercombe.
“Tesco has seemed to shy away from making clear to suppliers and customers what its sourcing policy is with lamb.
“With so many positive moves towards British farming among retailers, Tesco is sticking out like a sore thumb.”
In July, Morrisons joined the Co-op and Aldi in committing to stock 100% British fresh meat all year round.
Several supermarkets still import large volumes of cheaper Australian and New Zealand lamb, despite a 25% year on year decline in UK sheep meat imports in June 2017, according to AHDB Beef & Lamb.
Mr Sercombe added: “British lamb is at its prime right now and our farmers take great pride sending this high-quality product to the supermarket shelves, especially so for the British public.
“With Brexit looming, British lamb producers now more than ever need retailers to be clear on their sourcing commitments.
The livestock board chairman said that retailer commitments on sourcing would help British producers to invest in their farms for the long term.
“UK production is at its peak and is highly competitive, leaving British farmers bewildered as to why British facings are going down and not up at Tesco.”
In a statement, Tesco said it disagreed with the survey’s findings.
“The amount of British lamb we offer customers has increased over the last year, so we don’t recognise the findings of this research.
However, the supermarket failed to provide its own figures for how much British facing lamb it stocks, despite multiple requests from Farmers Weekly.
The supermarket added: “We are proud supporters of the British lamb industry and always offer our customers 100% British lamb on our counters and in our organic and finest* ranges.
“By selling British and New Zealand lamb we can offer our customers quality, availability and good value all year round.”
UK sheepmeat imports down
UK sheepmeat imports continued this year’s downward trend, falling 25% year on year in June, according to AHDB Beef and Lamb.
The UK imported 6,181 tonnes of sheepmeat in June, compared with 8,276t in the same month a year before – the vast majority of which came from New Zealand.
However, with its lowest lamb crop for 63 years, New Zealand exports to the UK have dropped by 37% in 2017.