British farmers have criticised Asda’s decision to backtrack on its promise to sell only British beef.
The retailer said the U-turn was the result of higher beef prices, and it would now sell both Irish and British-produced beef in its stores.
The move comes just over a year after the supermarket chain, under its new owners the Issa brothers, made a pledge to source 100% British beef. The retailer only managed to fulfil its commitment last October.
Neil Shand, the chief executive of industry body the National Beef Association (NBA), said he was “very disappointed that Asda wasn’t able to continue its commitment beyond two months”.
The NBA estimates that farm gate prices for British beef have risen by around 20% since the start of the pandemic.
However, farmers warn that the higher prices they are receiving for their produce are offset by the soaring costs of feed, fuel and fertiliser.
“The higher price for beef is being eroded,” said Shand. “Asda may claim beef is too expensive, but it can’t be produced at a lower price.”
Asda said: “We know that it is important to our customers that the beef on our shelves has been produced to high welfare standards and is affordable. Unfortunately, the price of British beef has risen and whilst we continue to work hard to keep prices as low as possible for our customers, these increases are significant.”
The retailer added that all of the beef sold in its premium Extra Special range would remain 100% British.
Irish beef is about 20% cheaper than British beef, according to the Irish Examiner. The UK is Ireland’s main overseas market for its beef, and accounted for more than three-quarters (78%) of beef imports entering the UK in 2019, according to figures from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).
Richard Findlay, the chair of the livestock board of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said farmers needed support from retail, given the post-Brexit changes to agriculture policy, and at a time when they were looking to invest in environmentally friendly food production.
“Given the significant changes to trade and agricultural policy, it is more important than ever that our retailers champion British food and farming and that, fundamentally, any sourcing commitments they make are honoured,” Findlay said.