FEBRUARY 27, 2009: Tesco has defended itself against claims that it is not thinking seriously about maintaining secure food supplies.
MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee accused the retailer of being too short-term in its relationships with producers and its plans.They were attending discussions on how to secure UK food supplies up to 2050, and committee chairman Michael Jack said the retailer’s view was too consumer-led. “In reality it is the longer term [which is important] and you should be taking an interest in the types of threat that could impact on your businesses,” he said. “I don’t get the feeling you are as proactive as you should be.” But Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco executive director, said DEFRA cuts in funding for research and development had made it difficult for retailers to consider long-term issues such as GM foods as a solution for securing food supplies. “We don’t use GM in our own brands, but if research came along we would look at it,” she said. Ms Neville-Rolfe said Tesco would support research into issues such GM technology, but that Government-funded research has fallen back by 45%. “That’s a pity because the challenge we have of trying to produce more food is an ideal challenge for agricultural science businesses to improve productivity.” Ms Neville-Rolfe said Tesco had invested �25m into climate change research at Manchester University but said there were other areas of the industry which desperately needed investment. She said the retailer had invested heavily in the dairy sector, offering one of the best prices in the industry of 28p/litre for its Tesco Dairy Group members. Tesco had also helped fund a dairy “centre of excellence” in conjunction with Liverpool University to improve producer efficiency, she said. “It would be good if DEFRA could find some public money to fund this type of activity as well,” she added.