23 May 2002 | Robin Parker
Supermarkets have rejected demands for targets on how much of their food products should be sourced locally.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), an independent body that encourages the sustainable use and diversity of rural land, has challenged supermarkets to source 5 per cent of their food lines locally by 2005.
It argues that, since supermarkets sell three-quarters of food bought in the UK, they have a responsibility to local producers and suppliers.
In its briefing, Down Your Way?, the CPRE claims the UK's six largest supermarkets have no accepted definition for local food and that their aspirations for promoting it are "vague or modest".
The CPRE suggests supermarkets should set a limit of 30 miles within which the main ingredient of local food must be grown and processed.
The recommendations follow a study by the Institute of Grocery Distribution, which found that 59 per cent of consumers were interested in locally produced food.
Retailers are in broad agreement that strong demand exists for locally sourced food, and several have set up specialist local sourcing teams and supplier initiatives.
But they reject claims that their policies are vague and say the suggested limit is an arbitrary and ineffective method of meeting demand for local specialities.
A spokeswoman for Asda said the CPRE's definition of what is local compromised both suppliers and consumers.
"We define local food as being whatever a customer perceives as local, which is according to regional taste.
"We also don't want to limit suppliers' capacity by confining them to stores within 30 miles."
Kevin Hawkins, director of communications at Safeway, said such a specialist market had to be responsive to consumer demand.
"There's a limit to the number of new products we want in our stores," he said.
"Applying an arbitrary definition is really not realistic, as in some areas the agricultural economy is not big enough to sustain enough production.
"Also, you can't assume that it's good just because it's local."