Coronavirus: Supply chain urged to play its part supporting British livestock farmers

Richard Findlay on farm July 2018_55385

In an open letter, NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay and vice-chairman Wyn Evans said that the supply chain has a moral responsibility to act in the interests of both consumers and farmers.

They reiterated that British beef and lamb is in plentiful supply but warned that ongoing high demand for products such as mince would soon become unsustainable.

In the letter, they said:

Beef and sheep farmers are facing massive and unwarranted disruption to their livelihoods as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. But while UK consumers continue to demand high quality beef and lamb, which UK farmers can supply, we see unsustainable returns for our livestock that are undermining the moral partnership needed between farmers, processors and retailers.  

The immediate impact of disruptive buying in your stores and the closure of the food service sector has been extreme. We understand that a great amount of effort and energy has been put in place to realign supply, fill shelves and protect staff and customer safety. It’s clearly a national priority to ensure shoppers can feed their families and keep the nation going at this time of need. The farmers we represent feel passionately about contributing to this effort, and we want to make sure that you and your customers are assured that British beef and lamb is in plentiful supply.

We understand very well that buying patterns in retail have caused significant problems with products like steaks and joints being outsold and out of balance by mince. Put simply, we cannot sustain a stable supply of one half of each animal. We think the whole chain has a renewed moral responsibility to make sure we market and value our product responsibly to avoid disruption to the consumer and of course to the farmers’ ability to maintain supply. Retail is the only route to market for the vast majority of our members, and consumers rely on you almost exclusively to access nearly all of the product we produce.  This moral responsibility cannot be avoided and nor will it be forgotten.

We are urging all retailers to take stock in this period of uncertainty and reconsider their responsibility to their suppliers in this newly constrained marketplace. For beef and lamb, that means buying in-balance and ensuring farmers receive a sustainable return. We are encouraged to see some retail lines promoting those prime cuts such as steaks and roasting joints as Easter and the warmer weather approaches. We will be contacting all retailers separately and in short order, to understand individual plans to deal with the disruption in supply.

All the farmers we represent want to help you help the nation through this crisis, we do however need all retailers to play their part with us.

The NFU will be contacting all retailers separately to understand individual plans to deal with the disruption in supply.

Click here to read insight from NFU chief food chain adviser Christine McDowell on why carcase balancing is key to unlocking fairer returns for producers, and what the NFU is asking retailers to do to help guide consumers to trade up to roasting joints and steaks.

Coronavirus: Updates and advice

This news hub on NFUonline will be updated regularly to keep you up to date with what you need to know and how to deal with the various issues raised by coronavirus. Visit the hub.

Click here to use the NFU's COVID-19 business impact service.

By using this form, farmers and growers can provide information on any business-critical issues they have encountered, or expect to encounter, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The NFU will log this information and use it in an anonymised format to flag the key issues agriculture and horticulture are facing to government on a daily basis. However, no personal data will be shared with the government. The service is for all farmers and growers across the UK.

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