Following the furore of Tesco customer services representatives mistakenly saying ‘UK lamb was not in season’ at the peak of domestic production and quality, NSA chief executive Phil Stocker has requested an urgent face-to-face meeting with Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke to discuss ways to ensure Tesco’s offering of UK lamb is optimised.
Linda Allen, a Tesco customer, Lancashire sheep farmer and NSA member, was disappointed to receive New Zealand lamb leg steaks in her Tesco home delivery order at a time of year when UK lamb is plentiful and delicious.
But she was shocked when an email conversation with Tesco customer services resulted in not one but three members of staff communicating the same message that UK lamb was not in season.
Mr Stocker said: “I have written to Philip Clarke to say Mrs Allen’s home shopping experience was bad enough, but the explanation she received when she questioned it was even worse and flies in the face of everything Mr Clarke has been saying publicly since the horsemeat affair.
“This incident occurred in late September, a month when UK lamb production is at its peak and quality is at its best. For Mrs Allen to be told lamb is out of season is astonishing and either purposefully misleading or a case of Tesco staff being completely unaware of reality. It is unacceptable either way.
“Mr Clarke publicly stated after the horsemeat scandal that Tesco needed to shorten its supply chains, get closer to UK producers and support UK farmers. Since then the message has been continually repeated to the agricultural community that Tesco is changing its ways and is in the process of building stronger and more supportive relations with UK producers.
“The recent evidence we have seen shows that this is not happening or that any progress is miserably slow.”
This is not the first time NSA has become aware of supermarket staff incorrectly informing customers that lamb is out of season, which suggests it is an excuse to cover up a lack of British product on shop shelves. NSA has been actively encouraging a more transparent debate on lamb seasonality for some time and is disappointed in the lack of accurate information being shared by retailers.
Mr Stocker added: “While the UK always sees a seasonal peak and trough of numbers of lambs marketed, the nature of our farms means there is never a time when UK lamb is out of season.
“Across the UK we have a varied climate which results in earlier and later lambing and this in itself spreads the supply of lambs. In addition, when you consider the close relationship between sheep farming and our iconic landscapes – our hills and uplands, downland, lowland meadows and coastal marshes – and the diversity of breeds they support, it is easy to see why quality lamb is available all year round.
“We know the public value our countryside and landscape and by choosing UK lamb we can all do our bit to make sure we support the farmers who are keeping it in a condition for us to enjoy.”
Meanwhile, the NSA Lambing List for 2013/14 is now open, with the intention of matchmaking farmers who need assistance at lambing time with veterinary and agricultural students required to undertake a lambing placement as part of their educational studies.
Phil Stocker said: “The Lambing List is part of NSA’s support for the next generation of sheep farmers and large animal vets, and is hugely valued by both the students and farmers who use it.
“It’s a very simple but effective process – we collate a list of NSA members looking for help at lambing time and provide contact details so students can approach them directly to ask for a placement. It’s a great service for our members, but also provides a boost for young people keen to get ahead.
“And an added bonus this year is the list will be hosted on our new website dedicated to young people – www.nsanextgeneration.org.uk – meaning students seeking the list will also find an online resource packed with useful information about forging a career in the sheep sector.”
The 2013/14 list will be made available later this month. Students wishing to be updated when the list goes online and each time it is updated should email firstname.lastname@example.org
Farmers wishing to be added to the list should contact NSA head office as soon as they are able, by calling 01684 892661 or emailing email@example.com with their name, NSA membership number, address and contact telephone numbers, plus the dates help is required to and from.
Other useful information includes how many students/helpers required, whether or not accommodation can be provided, if experienced help is required, the number of ewes to lamb, and if they lamb indoors or outdoors.