Tesco chief set for rough ride at farmers' conference

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The Independent Online

Disgruntled farmers have attacked their union's decision to offer the floor to Tesco on the second day of its annual conference.

In dispatching its chairman, David Reid, to address the National Farmers' Union, Britain's biggest supermarket group is sending a clear message that it is taking its deteriorating relationship with its suppliers seriously.

Mr Reid will today tell the conference that Tesco wants to create more opportunities for farmers to supply more profitable lines, such as organic meat and poultry, to the chain amid escalating fears about the pressure that Britain's biggest supermarkets are exerting on the sector.

But his pledges are likely to fall on deaf ears, with many delegates tipped to give the Tesco chairman a rough ride. David Handley, from the pressure group Better NFU, said: "We should be championing the retailers who negotiate fair deals with farmers rather than opening the door to those, like Tesco's, with the worst records."

Another farmer said: "There is a certain irony that the chairman of Tesco is coming along when Tesco is one of the groups that has screwed farmers down the most."

Mr Reid will promise to hold a workshop on organic livestock farming, spelling out how farmers can convert to supplying organic meat and milk. Sales of organic produce are soaring 30 per cent a year at Tesco. He will highlight examples of suppliers who have prospered from going organic, such as Hertfordshire-based Glinwell, which has become the chain's biggest organic supplier, with a turnover of £8m from a standing start three years ago.

Yesterday Peter Mandelson, the European commissioner for trade, won friends among the farming lobby by suggesting that the market power of the UK's biggest chain could be contributing to a drop in farm incomes.

"The question of undue monopoly power in the supply chain is undoubtedly a real issue, which competition authorities could address, along with other policy instruments," he told the conference.

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