Supermarkets told to pay a sustainable price for food

Farmers and growers are bearing a disproportionate share of the risk in food supply chains, and supermarkets need to step up to ensure they receive a fair price and more flexible treatment.

Those are among the key demands contained in a joint letter from the four main UK farming unions – NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union – to the main food retailers in the wake of the challenging weather this spring.

See also: Wet weather drives food security up the political agenda

The unions emphasise that exceptional rainfall and damaging storms have affected the livestock, arable and horticultural sectors across the country.

“No area of the UK has escaped, with lambing, calving, planting and field work all proving very difficult and bringing additional cost to the business,” they say.

“These challenges come at a time when many of our members are already struggling to remain viable due to the perfect storm of sustained and spiralling production costs, low market returns, and increasing levels of regulation.

“Farmers and growers continue to bear the lion’s share of the risk within their supply chains, and this is unsustainable.”

The four unions are therefore demanding the following from the supermarkets:

  1. Steadfast commitment to local sourcing, including honouring existing sourcing commitments
  2. Fairer supply chains, with a swift response to farmer requests for a review of the terms of their contracts, “including price”
  3. Flexibility on product specification, to allow for the fact that due to the foul weather produce may not fully conform to specifications previously agreed
  4. Rapid payment of suppliers, to help farmers with cashflow
  5. Promotion of local suppliers, so shoppers can more easily support British farmers.

‘Sustainable price’ 

The letter has met with a positive response from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said food retailers would continue to source the vast majority of their food from the UK and “know they need to pay a sustainable price to farmers”.

“Retailers ensure customers can choose from a wide range of British produce, in-store and online, all of which is clearly labelled to allow customers to make an informed decision when doing their shopping,” he said.

“Farmers and other suppliers are also protected by the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which ensures fair terms in supply chain contracts.”

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