The Co-operative Group has signed up to a new campaign aimed at ensuring sustainable British agriculture. The Back British Farming Charter is the National Farmers’ Union’s response to declining self-sufficiency.
The UK now produces just 62 per cent of its own food, the union says. It is urging businesses, politicians and the public to sign the charter to show their support for British farming.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: “As an industry we’ve had a challenging decade but the realisation has dawned that as a nation we can’t simply go around the world chasing the cheapest deal for our food.
“Across the board farmers have a fantastic natural capacity to produce more British food, given the right market signals and the confidence to invest.”
The charter calls for less red tape, longer-term trading relationships and a supply chain with shared objectives and responsibilities. It demands assurances that agriculture will have its fair share of water when supplies are low and calls for increased spending on research and development, so that new technologies are translated from the lab to the field.
It also demands policies that encourage farmers to invest and which attract new businesses to the sector, along with fair treatment for farmers across the EU.
Mr Kendall said retailers want to work with British farmers and stock British produce. “We currently import around £37.6bn of food and drink,” he said. “At a time of economic uncertainty a strong food producing industry is essential.”
A recent survey commissioned by the Co-operative showed that 72 per cent of people thought a sustainable British farming industry was very important, with 22 per cent saying it was quite important. Food security, the economy, quality and animal welfare were among the reasons given.
Steve Murrells, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group Retail, said: “Our commitment to British farming was demonstrated earlier this year with the launch of the Co-operative Farming Groups for British beef, poultry, pork and lamb.”
All the Co-operative’s fresh chicken, pork, beef and turkey is British, as are its own-brand sausages, burgers, ham, eggs, milk and cream. It only uses British meat in its premium Truly Irresistible, Eat In and BBQ products.
“The Co-operative is one of Britain’s largest farmers, growing significant quantities of fruit and vegetables for our stores across the UK, so we recognise the difficulties growers can face,” added Mr Murrells.
“The coldest spring in 50 years led to an unprecedented peak in UK strawberries last month, but we worked with our UK growers to manage this with strong customer offers, which meant that we sold almost 50 per cent more strawberries this July than we did in July 2012.
“Sales of British salad items have also soared in recent weeks, and our commitment to home-grown produce will continue.”