17 January 2002 | Robin Parker
Supermarket giant Tesco has insisted its supplier forums are the best arena for thrashing out prices with farmers.
The statement follows mounting pressure from the Farmers for Action (FFA) group to meet Terry Leahy, the chain's chief executive, to demand extra payment for meat and dairy goods.
The farmers threatened widespread blockades and in-store protests unless their demands were met. The protesters have rejected invitations to attend Tesco's regular producers club meeting later this month.
A Tesco spokesman said: "It's the best place to have a discussion with the director responsible for primary agriculture. We are keen to listen to the group's concerns. Price comes up all the time at these events, which are well-attended by other grass-roots farmers."
Tesco buys in all its milk and nearly all its fresh meat from the UK. It said that blockading depots would hurt the British farmers that the FFA represents.
The spokesman said FFA protests at six depots late last year caused minimal disruption and claimed they were attended by only about a dozen farmers.
Tom Houghton, a vice-president of the FFA, said the producers club meetings were too "low level" to satisfy the group.
"We just want to sit down with Leahy and explain the concerns of our industry," he said.