UK

Tesco Chief Executive Philip Clarke Pledges All British Chicken Meat In Stores By July, But Warns Costs May Rise

27/02/2013 09:15 GMT | Updated 27/02/2013 10:18 GMT

Tesco's boss has vowed to bring meat production "closer to home" and work much more closely with British farmers in the fallout of the horsemeat scandal - customers will be forced to foot the bill for better quality meat.

Chief executive Philip Clarke told the BBC on Wednesday he had introduced a new testing process so that customers can be sure that what is on the label is in the packet.

In addition, from July, all chicken meat sold at Tescos will come from British farms. Clarke said: "The testing regime is intended to ensure that if it is not on the label it is not in the packet, if it is beef, it is beef, and nothing else. And that is the most comprehensive testing regime I have ever seen, and it's happening right now.

"The second thing is we're going to bring meat production a bit closer to home. We do buy some, particularly for our frozen products, out of Europe, and as we can we'll bring it closer to home. And the third thing is we're going to have more partnerships, more collaboration with farmers."

Clarke is due to address the National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham on Wednesday, and said he hoped the changes he indicated were "good signs" of why customers should trust Tesco.

A poll by the NFU, released ahead of its conference, found shoppers want more food from British farms on supermarket shelves in the wake of the horse meat scandal.

More than three-quarters (78%) of 1,000 people said supermarkets should sell more food from British farms and 43% said they were more likely to buy traceable food from farms in Britain.

NFU president Peter Kendall said shorter and more traceable supply chains would alleviate the crisis of recent weeks, and called for clearer 'country of origin' labelling so consumers could buy British more easily.

"Farmers have been furious about what has happened," Kendall told the Press Asssociation. "They have spent many years working to ensure the British supply chain is fully traceable from farm to pack, and have upheld strong principles which are embodied in assurance schemes like Red Tractor. For me, this is fundamental for consumer confidence.

"But more than that, I want to see retailers working on rebuilding consumer trust - improving transparency and partnership with farmers and the rest of the supply chain is critical.

"However, what we see currently in some sectors is real short-termism. The margin distribution in the supply chain needs more transparency and joined-up thinking if we are to tackle the dual challenges of volatility and environmental pressures."

The poll also found more than half of those questioned (51%) found information on food origin either confusing or very confusing - something which Kendal said had to change.

"More needs to be done to make labelling clearer and the NFU lobbies hard on this issue. For consumers, I say be more demanding. Ask your retailers where the food they are selling comes from and look out for the Red Tractor logo carrying the Union flag to know the food you are buying is produced to good standards and traceable from farm to pack," he urged.

Earlier this month, Huffington Post UK reported family butchers had reported a surge in sales following the fallout of the horsemeat scandal, but warned the spike could disappear unless action is taken to change the public's view of processed meat forever.

Johnny Pusztai, a family butcher from JT Beedham and Sons in Nottingham, told HuffPost UK the "mass majority of consumers will forget about it" once the media interest has died down.

"Food is low down on the priority list for most people; they want two cars, and a fantastic TV, a dvd player and a kitchen with all the mod cons, and only after all that do they consider their food," said Pusztai.

"The responsibility to change that attitude lies with schools - bring back home economics and bring butchers into schools to teach five and six year olds where their meat comes from.

Update: 10:15, 27 February

Tesco has also lost its appeal against the Office of Fair Trading over dairy price fixing. The OFT said the Competition Appeal Tribunal upheld its original view that Tesco broke competition law three times by co-ordinating increases in the prices consumers paid for cheese in 2002.

The supermarket has been ordered to pay £6.5 million.