THE chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA) wants an urgent meeting with the head of Tesco over its lamb buying policy.
It follows anger over Tesco sending a Lancashire sheep farmer New Zealand lamb in her home delivery – wrongly claiming UK lamb was “not in season”.
Phil Stocker wants to meet Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke to discuss ways to ensure Tesco’s offering of UK lamb is optimised.
Linda Allen, of Killington, Kirkby Lonsdale, was puzzled to receive New Zealand lamb leg steaks.
But she was shocked by an email conversation with Tesco customer services, between September 26 and October 2, when three staff each claimed UK lamb was “not in season”.
Tesco has since apologised, saying the staff were incorrect.
But Mr Stocker, said: “This incident occurred in late September, a month when UK lamb production is at its peak and quality at its best. For Mrs Allen to be told lamb is ‘out of season’ is astonishing and either purposefully misleading or a case of Tesco staff being completely unaware of reality. It is unacceptable either way.”
After the horsemeat scandal, Mr Clark said Tesco would shorten its supply chains, get closer to UK producers and support UK farmers.
He also told the annual conference of the National Farmers’ Union that Tesco would stock more British produce.
Mr Stocker said: “While the UK always sees a seasonal peak and trough of numbers of lambs marketed, the nature of our farms means there is never a time when UK lamb is out of season.”
“The lamb market is in a terrible state at the moment – prices are low because there is no confidence and this type of approach from Tesco only worsens the situation.”
Dorothy Fairburn, CLA North regional director, said: “This is a quite shocking response from one of our big four retailers that professes to support local farmers.
“Hill farmers throughout Cumbria are battling to stay in business and although supermarkets pay lip service to their plight it would appear from Mrs Allan’s experience that the reality is a different matter.”
The NFU said Aldi, Budgens and Morrisons stocked 100 per cent British lamb on their shelves in August, but Tesco’s proportion was only 55 per cent.
New Eblex figures showed M&S, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s all ensured at least 85 per cent of their lamb was British.
Peter Kendall, NFU president, said: “It is now seven months since Philip Clarke made bold promises to increase their British sourcing at the NFU Conference, and many hard working sheep farmers will be asking serious questions about whether this was a genuine commitment."
The figures suggested they were buying less this year than last.