Farmers picket in french chickenburgers row

Click to follow

Scores of farmers were today preparing to picket an education authority which buys French frozen chickenburgers for school meals.

Scores of farmers were today preparing to picket an education authority which buys French frozen chickenburgers for school meals.

The protest will go ahead despite an invitation by the authority to the NFU to discuss the food sourcing issue - and a pledge to buy no more of the burgers until after their talks.

The action was among a number of initiatives by the South West's farmers today as they continue to press their buy-British campaign while France continues to refuse UK beef exports.

Devon County Council offered to meet farmers after they announced earlier this week they would go to the authority's Exeter headquarters to draw attention to the authority's purchasing of non-UK food for schoolchildren.

Yesterday the authority announced it would invite NFU representatives to discuss how Devon assured quality and best value in its food purchasing for school and social services catering.

But picket organiser, farmer Donald Arscott, said they would still be going to county hall - and would be pressing the county on the issue of traceability of French food.

"In my opinion it is suspect," he said.

Devon buys £1.8 million worth of food a year produced by West Country suppliers - including all fresh meat, as well as cheese, milk, bread and vegetables - for school meals.

But the county currently spends £40,000 a year on French chickenburgers for school meals through a UK supplier.

"The product is of good quality produced from chickens fed on quality feed from one of France's top food suppliers," said a council spokesman.

There was "no question of them being fed on sewage or anything like that", he added.

Council leader Brian Greenslade said today the authority had a duty to ensure the best possible quality and value for money, but also had a duty to support and encourage local producers wherever possible.

He said the NFU had been invited to look at the authority's purchasing arrangements so they could be assured of operating on a "level playing field" with their European counterparts in terms of production standards.

Farmers will also be visiting supermarkets all over Cornwall today to ask managers to co-operate in persuading shoppers to back British produce.

They will also visit the Ministry of Agriculture offices in Truro to deliver a platter of T-bone steaks - with a demand for the Government to remove its beef on the bone ban.

Farmers feel that ban is one of the barriers to French acceptance of British beef.

Cornwall County Council said the issue of French ingredients in school catering had not yet been considered by the authority.