Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke believes the horse meat scandal will lead to a transformation in the food sector and describes it as a “pivotal moment for our industry”.
Speaking at the National Farmers Union conference today, Clarke maintained that the measures Tesco will undertake following the debacle represent “the most radical change between a retailer and producers that has been attempted”.
Clarke’s vision was “of a bright future for British agriculture, a future based on better relationships and upon a transparent supply chain”.
He said he has kick-started a “root and branch” review of Tesco’s supply chain and vowed to source more meat from the UK in a bid to restore consumer confidence.
Clarke pledged to forge stronger links with British farmers. He said: “We are the UK’s biggest retailer, the biggest customer of UK agriculture, and I firmly believe that means we should be the best supporter of British farmers.”
He admitted that the food supply chain has become too complex. He warned that there is “no doubt that we will find things we don’t like” during the supply chain review but promised: “When we find them, we will change them.”
He told the audience: “We will accept nothing but the very highest standards in our supply chain”.
Tesco will appoint a new agricultural director to lead Tesco’s ‘sustainable farming groups’, the remit of which is being extended, and provide farmers with a single point of contact.
Clarke pledged two-year contracts for all Tesco food suppliers to enable them to plan for the long term.
By July, all of Tesco’s fresh chicken will be sourced from British farms. That will be followed by the chicken used in frozen and ready meals.
Tesco will introduce a global DNA testing programme to screen meat before it goes into its products. Clarke said the “new Tesco standard” will give shoppers the confidence that “the products they are buying have been through the most rigorous testing regime in UK retail”.
Tesco will establish an independent panel to “help us to improve the way the supply chain works in practice”.
Clarke said he is committed to ensuring Tesco’s entire product range offers quality, from its Value lines to Finest. “I will never accept the patronising argument that somehow a value product shouldn’t meet the same exacting standards as the core range.”
He added: “I will also never accept the equally patronising view that providing people with affordable food – what some people dismiss as “cheap food” – is somehow wrong. It does not follow that the measures I am announcing today mean that food needs to become more expensive.”
Clarke said “not since BSE has the meat processing industry been under such scrutiny” and that the events of the last six weeks had “shocked the whole country”.