The Co-op encourages all British retailers to stock only fresh meat produced in the UK

While confirming its intention to stock only fresh meat products from exclusively UK sources, with immediate effect, Britain’s Co-op supermarket chain has also admitted that Irish beef has not featured on its shelves for a considerable period of time.

But in a statement issued by the company this week, it specifically points out that Ireland is the biggest beneficiary of EU meat trade with the UK.

According to a Co-op survey, £1.45bn (€1.72bn) of meat comes into the UK from the Republic of Ireland each year. This business accounts for 6% of total retail food sales in the UK.

The retailer announced it will become the first national retailer in the UK to switch all of the fresh meat which bears its name to British. And it is calling on more supermarkets and food-service providers to back UK-produced goods.

Jo Whitfield, Retail Chief Executive, Co-op, said: “British consumers will be shocked to see how meat imports have grown while at the same time retailers hang out the bunting and claim to back British farmers. Only the Co-op offers 100% British fresh meat all year round and not just in the meat cabinet but also in our sandwiches, our pies and our ready meals.”

Responding, a Bord Bia spokesperson said that the Co-op is not a customer for Irish meat and has not sourced Irish beef for over a decade, having a British sourcing policy for beef, pork, poultry and lamb (when in season) for many years.

“This story is not news, as the Co-op has regularly restated its commitment to British farming and agriculture and its ambition to source as much British produce as possible.

“Irish beef is listed in the three largest retailers in the UK, namely Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda, with a combined share of 59.2% of total grocery and a combined share of 47.7% of beef.

Irish beef is sold alongside British beef in the three largest UK retailers, at the same price, and forms part of these retailers’ continued commitment to sourcing Irish beef as part of their British Isles’ sourcing policy.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) President John Comer said the stance taken by the Co-op is clumsy and unfeasible.

“Everyone should operate on the basis of patience and progress towards a deal that will work for both parties and enable the continuation of centuries-old trade between the different states and parts of Europe.

“Premature and aggressive calls for the expulsion of non-British foodstuffs from supermarket shelves in that country was ramping up feeling and sentiment at precisely the time when calm and some degree of realism was required.”