Shorter supply chains and British sourced beef is needed as the horse meat scandal shows failings in the current system according to NFU President Peter Kendall.Kendall used his opening address at Conference 2013 to argue for a major shift in the way food is delivered.The call comes as Tesco chief Philip Clarke pledged to sell meat from sources ‘closer to home’.Clarke said Tesco had introduced new testing processes in light of recent concerns from farming groups and consumers.From July, he said, all chicken sold in its stores would be from British farms. Sainsbury’s said it was committed to doubling the amount of British food sold in its stores by 2020, chief executive Justin King said.New research shows customers want to see more British food on supermarket shelves with 82% of shoppers more likely to buy traceable food produced on British farms.The fear of eating contaminated beef has caused many shoppers to be wary of all meat sold in supermarkets."This boils down to a clear and simple message: we need shorter supply chains" said Kendall, who was speaking in Birmingham."We must make that our collective ambition. But if British farmers are to deliver more of what the British consumer buys, it’s going to take a major shift in the way the food supply chain operates."Most major farming groups have highlighted failings in the supermarket supply chains since the horsemeat scandal broke."The squeezing of their suppliers margins and the relentless search for profit through buying cheaper product is the reason horsemeat is in their products" the National Beef Association said."The supermarkets spend millions on creating and protecting their brand but what is behind that brand is reflected in their own brand economy burgers. They are brands are funded by the exploitation of the consumer and the supplier."Kendall called on the government to work with farmers to ensure they have all the tools to produce food and create 'a fair and transparent supply chain, for a home market.'NFU deputy Stephen James said: "Farmers have been furious about what has happened.""They have spent many years working to ensure the supply chain is fully traceable from farm to pack and building 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 re-building consumer trust, improving transparency and so 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 to tackle the dual challenges of volatility and environmental pressures."57% of people, according to the One Poll survey, said they found information on food origin either confusing or very confusing. "This has to change" James said.Farming associations have highlighted several issues which could impinge on the UK's ability to deliver food, which include the current Common Agricultural Policy reforms, the on-going threat to beef and dairy farmers from TB and the need for shorter supply chains as shown by the meat scandal."It's not just about today’s 63 million UK consumers" Kendall said."As I've often said, standing still production-wise isn't an option – on the self-sufficiency scale it takes us backwards." "The latest Office of National Statistics projections suggest that by 2021 – that's within eight years – the population in England alone will have increased by over 4.5 million people. That's practically four Birmingham’s worth of extra mouths to feed on our doorstep. This is a massive opportunity for all of us."A new CAP farming coalition was launched at the event in Birmingham whose members include the NFU, the Tenant Farmers' Association and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).Critical for achieving that outcome, the new coalition has identified two central concerns, both intrinsically linked to each other.
Firstly, UK farmers already receive a level of farm payments considerably lower than our main competitors. Instead of finding ways to secure a more level playing field across the EU, Defra has successfully negotiated the powers to potentially widen the gap in payment levels further by switching money in the CAP from the direct payments envelope to the rural development envelope.The second threat relates to plans to "green" the direct payments. Negotiations are ongoing at a European level but the industry fears that Defra's preferred method of implementing greening would close off options that will be available to farmers in other parts of the UK and across the EU.
The coalition does not agree on every CAP issue, but it is united on these two central issues and has announced a number of principles which they are encouraging Defra to adopt in designing the delivery of the future CAP policy at an English level:EU ministers have held meetings in Brussels to deal with the fallout from the horsemeat scandal as investigations continue.Keith Taylor MEP has called for a change to EU law to allow consumers to see exactly where their meat comes from."The horsemeat scandal exposes major questions over EU rules on food safety and quality, transparency and food labelling, and as regards cross-border fraud and crime" he said."Concerns about the regulatory system, product labelling and how this alleged fraud could have been allowed to happen in the EU's internal market, must be addressed without delay.""The time has come to see mandatory country-of-origin labelling for all meat, including meat used as an ingredient in processed food.""This should include place of birth, rearing and slaughter. Current EU rules only require country labelling for unprocessed beef. The Greens had called for full origin labelling on meat products in 2010 but this was foolishly refused by EU governments."Kendall said: "If there's one thing that unites every farmer in every sector in every part of the country it's hatred of modulation.""Defra has negotiated the right to cut English farmers’ payments by 15 per cent. That’s intolerable to us in the NFU and to the coalition. Particularly when we know that some other countries are planning to transfer 25 per cent in the other direction. Farmers across England are asking 'Who’s batting for us in this CAP negotiation?'"
He also called for a rethink on some of the greening proposals currently on the table. "Even the EU Heads of Government have stressed that ecological focus areas should be 'implemented in ways that do not require land to be taken out of production'", he said. "We can't afford to have great swathes of land taken out of production. We have a job to do, and that job, first and foremost, is to produce food to feed this country."