Sheep farmers 'dismayed' as Morrisons drops British only pledge

Morrisons has traditionally been seen as a strong supporter of the British livestock industry
Morrisons has traditionally been seen as a strong supporter of the British livestock industry

Sheep farmers are 'dismayed and frustrated' after Morrisons announced this week that it will no longer sell solely British lamb in its stores.

The retailer said it would be dropping its commitment to source only British lamb, a pledge made in 2017, as part of a new trial.

The supermarket chain has traditionally been seen as a strong supporter of the British livestock industry.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) said the news was 'hugely disappointing', particularly following difficult weather and the threat of both Bluetongue and Schmallenberg viruses.

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker said: "We learnt of this disappointing news whilst returning from the Field to Fork Summit held with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street.

"An event that was designed to show support for UK agriculture and where the supermarket itself had a presence promoting its commitment to British farmers. So the timing of this announcement is really quite unbelievable.

He added: “This is a very poor decision, and something NSA warned could happen during the negotiations around the new trade deals agreed with Australia and New Zealand last year.”

Morrisons announced that it would cease its commitment to stock only British lamb because customers were seeking cheaper product, and that this could be sourced more easily from New Zealand.

But Mr Stocker said the last thing UK sheep producers needed was for their prices to be undermined by cheaper imports.

He said: “If we want high standards in the UK then these are realistic prices that are needed for farmers to produce lamb sustainably and at a price that can allow much needed reinvestment into their farms.

"And not forgetting the UK sheep sector has endured a very difficult winter and early spring with seriously challenging weather conditions, Schmallenberg virus causing losses on many farms, plus the threat of Bluetongue virus arriving from Europe this summer.

"All these things are causing a level of uncertainty amongst many farmers," Mr Stocker said.

The NFU's Livestock Board said the news was 'hugely disappointing' and came at a 'challenging time' for livestock farmers.

Board chair David Barton said: “British sheep farmers and shoppers will be incredibly disappointed that Morrisons has dropped its commitment.

"The retailer has built its reputation on British-only sourcing and supported British farmers through its fully integrated supply chain.

“This comes at a time when the livestock sector is already under pressure from the impacts of the unprecedented wet weather."