14 April 2000

Meat processor angers pro-British retail chiefs

By Johann Tasker

ASDA bosses have demanded urgent talks with one of Britains biggest meat processors who said he didnt give a damn where his company bought its beef.

The remark was made by Shawn Baker of Midland Meat Packers (MMP) which supplies Asda stores with what it insists is British beef produced by British farmers.

Mr Baker, head of production at MMP, made the comments during a speech to farmers at a meeting at Daventry, Northants. He said: "The pace of change in the beef industry is so huge and we are supplying retailers with low cost as the main issue, so to be honest we do not give a damn where the product comes from."

Mr Baker suggested it was unclear how supermarkets such as Sainsbury and Tesco would react to the merger of Asda with Wal-Mart, the US-based retail giant which is renowned for selling cut price food.

The comments infuriated all three supermarkets. A spokeswoman for Asda, which buys much of its beef from MMP, said: "Midland is quoted as saying it doesnt give a damn where its meat comes from, but we absolutely do care at Asda. We see it very much as investing in a farming industry that we are reliant on. Our beef is 100% British and its in our interest to have a healthy beef industry."

Discuss situation

She added: "We stipulate to our buyers that it must be 100% British. We will be contacting Midland to discuss the situation. Clearly, its not the case that we dont care where our beef comes from."

David Sawday, director of corporate affairs at Tesco, said: "People have talked about the Wal-Mart factor and clearly Wal-Mart will be less pro-British than any existing players have been. They are an international company with far less of a track record here than we have. That may or may not mean well need to respond but nothing has happened yet.

"Weve worked hard to develop our supply base and we dont see any prospect that changing any time in the near future. Clearly, never is a long time, but we want to work with British farmers and our customers want to buy a significant amount of British beef. We have delivered a supply chain to develop that for us."

A statement from Sainsbury said the retailer was concerned to read the comments made by Mr Baker.

It added: "We believe our customers want British products. Sainsbury has supported British farming for well over 100 years. The company has a buy British policy and we source from the UK wherever possible. Currently 95% of our beef is British and 5% comes from the Republic of Ireland."

MMP refused to comment on Mr Bakers remarks. But they are an embarrassment for the company, not least because his father, John Baker, is a commissioner at the Meat and Livestock Commission.

The MLC has a long history of promoting British beef, but a spokesman for the organisation said that Mr Bakers comments were a matter for the company, not the commission. &#42

Shawn Baker doesnt give a damn where the beef comes from.