By Joel Durkin, Farmers Guardian
NATIONAL Beef Association (NBA) chiefs have questioned the integrity of retailers after a flush of Polish and Irish beef made it onto the UK market.
Polish imports have increased since last summer after the country’s ban on Halal slaughter caused surplus supplies to come onto the EU market.
The NBA has hit out at retailers for the current lack of demand for UK cattle, saying their squeeze on processors is finding its way back to finishers.
Chris Mallon, chief executive at the NBA, highlighted the commitments made to UK farmers following last year’s horsemeat scandal.
He said: “A year ago consumers found out their cheap beef was horse, resulting in leading retailers telling farmers they were backing British beef as they had learnt their lesson and local produce was their goal.
“Almost a year on and the promises seem hollow to those finishing British cattle.”
Mr Mallon pointed to sliding beef prices and claimed the ‘lure of cheap imported meat’ had become more important than supply chain integrity.
He said producers had reacted to retailer demand with native breed beef schemes, but those who were producing these finished animals were now being punished by waiting lists and reduced premiums.
He said: “Tesco maintained in April 2013 it was ‘bringing food closer to home’ and ‘building better relationships with farmers’. At the moment the relationship needs counselling before all trust is lost.”
Tesco responded by saying it did not source beef from Poland and was committed to UK farmers. A spokesman said: “We are 100 per cent British and Irish. That is our commitment and it remains so. Our commitment is very real and it has a bearing on the business.
“Developing strong relationships with farmers is important and we have embraced two-year direct contracts for beef farmers.”
NFU livestock adviser Peter Garbutt claimed the issue of Polish supplies coming onto the EU market had been around since summer, saying another possible reason for the current dip in demand was reports of many processors currently having full stores.
Mr Garbutt underlined Mr Mallon’s calls for a long-term commitment to UK beef but said more transparency was also needed at processor level on issues including disposal charges.