13 December 1996

Expose supermarkets secret sourcing – FABBL

By John Burns

SECRETIVE sourcing of cattle and sheep in live auction markets for supermarkets claiming they only source direct from farms should be exposed, says Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb chairman, Gerald Cowan.

Speaking at Beef and Sheep South West at Shepton Mallet, Somerset, Mr Cowan said one implication was that processors could source FABBL stock without paying a premium, thereby tempting producers to sell direct because premiums were being offered on that route at present.

The danger then was that if the auction system was weakened to the extent that it was left with only the non-FABBL and poorer stock, the average auction prices on which deadweight prices were based would spiral downwards.

"Supermarkets say they want to buy everything direct," he said. "But in reality they will never be able to, and indeed will never want to. They use third parties to buy stock under cover at live auctions, and no one knows who they are bidding for. I dont like that. I want the supermarkets to come clean."

That would allow farmers to see whether they were benefiting from being farm assured and that supermarkets really were only buying farm assured stock. If a supermarket wanted farmers to work towards producing specifically for it, it would do well to identify itself in live auctions, he said.

Mr Cowan suggested the supermarkets could identify live markets which met their standards and make it clear that they were buying there.

FABBLs Gerald Cowan, warned that live auctions could be weakened by the rise in deadweight sourcing.