Fed-up farmers are threatening protests against Tesco this Christmas after talks broke down over reducing the large amounts of New Zealand lamb on sale in its stores.
Members of farm lobby group Farmers For Action and North Wales sheep farmer representatives held talks with senior executives from Tesco on Thursday (3 December).
The meeting was arranged following a meeting last week to discuss how British farmers could forge closer relationships with Tesco amid increasing frustration over its lamb-sourcing policies.
Farmers are furious that despite repeated promises to back British lamb, Tesco continues to source large volumes of New Zealand lamb on special offer in its stores.
They are demanding Tesco commits to cutting sales of imported NZ lamb by 50%.
FFA members said they walked out of Thursday’s meeting after Tesco refused to hand over figures on imports of Zealand lamb as requested at a recent meeting of NFU, FFA and North Wales sheep farmer representatives.
David Handley, FFA chairman, said great progress had been made within the lamb market with other retailers, such as Asda and the Co-op.
But he was greatly disappointed that talks had broken down with Tesco, which would “not only benefit British sheep farmers, but help put Tesco on the road to recovery”.
Mr Handley said: “Tesco, which states it is the biggest supporter of British farmers, is not prepared to even discuss changing the British sheep farming industry so that it becomes profitable for all parties involved in this industry and the supply chain.
“The breakdown completely surrounds displacing NZ lamb for British and the fact that Tesco will not commit to importing less and allowing British sheep farmers to replace that product.
“Tesco’s excuse is that it has to provide their consumer with best value. What they don’t say is, at the expense of the British sheep industry.
“Tesco thinks by offering a few people fancy contracts it has done its bit to be able to say it is the biggest supporter of British farming.”
FFA will continue to work with others in the lamb supply chain to try to get a better deal for British sheep farmers. “What we will not have is our industry run by dictators,” said Mr Handley.
With an NFU election looming, Mr Handley said he would not be surprised if Tesco and the NFU announced a deal in the run-up to the elections. But he urged farmers to “read the small print” as Tesco’s promises to source more British lamb had “not really come to fruition” over the past three years.
Mr Handley said Tesco was on his organisation’s radar for protests in the run-up to Christmas. It is understood that direct action could be staged outside Tesco’s distribution depots.
“Christmas should be a happy time, a time of celebration, but we are sorry to say that for Tesco this may well not be the case,” said Mr Handley.
North Wales farmers staged protests outside Tesco’s store in Carmarthen and Bangor in July over its lamb-sourcing policies.
A Tesco spokesman said: “Members of our agriculture and commercial teams had a constructive meeting with the North Wales sheep farmers group this afternoon.
“This follows regular dialogue with national and regional farming unions and Farmers For Action, where we have discussed the crucial role retailers, processors and producers all have to play to ensure we meet the needs of customers and to support a sustainable lamb industry.
“Despite progress being made, Farmers For Action have decided to terminate discussions. We remain committed to supporting UK lamb farmers and providing our customers with the best-quality British lamb.”
According to AHDB, for the week ending 28 November, the deadweight seasonal quality quotation (SQQ) lamb prices were at 355.9p/kg, up 4p/kg on the previous week.
Prices are expected to show further increases from the seasonal boost ahead of Christmas. However, many farmers are still producing lamb well below the average cost of production, making a loss of 60-70p/kg in some areas.
In September, NFU Scotland accused Tesco of delivering Scottish sheep farmers a “slap in the face” by selling significant quantities of imported lamb under a banner proclaiming to support Scottish sheep farmers.
At the Tesco Extra store at Hermiston Gait near Edinburgh, shelves full of imported New Zealand lamb were found sitting under a banner which claimed it to be “The Best Scottish Lamb in Season”.