BRITAIN'S two biggest supermarket chains have been accused of backsliding on their commitment to sourcing locally produced lamb.

As the sheep sector enters peak lamb season, and farmers look towards market returns that might provide some cheer amid the political uncertainty, a shelf watch study by NFU Scotland has revealed that 11% of the lamb on supermarket shelves is imported – and that almost all of this imported meat was found on Asda and Tesco shelves.

The high percentage of imports is in sharp contrast to a study conducted at the same time last year, which found only 3% of fresh lamb on Scottish supermarket shelves was from overseas, and that 97% of lamb was clearly labelled as Scottish or British lamb.

Noting this disappointing fall from that high water mark, NFUS said that the hard work of the other supermarkets to support the domestic sheep sector had been 'undermined' by Asda and Tesco

Union livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam said: “This is a bitter sweet survey at a crunch time for Scottish sheep producers. This week saw 18,500 store lambs from hill farmers and crofters pass through the iconic sale rings at Lairg, providing a valuable barometer on the sheep sector's fortunes. At the same time, sales of prime Scottish lambs are building towards a peak.

“Next week also sees the annual Scotch Lamb promotional campaign start, with a month-long programme of activity to promote the quality and provenance of the Scottish product. As that campaign kicks off, the good news is that the support being shown to Scottish and British by Aldi, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Co-op, Sainsburys and Morrisons marks positive progress and a real success for the dialogue between NFU Scotland and retailers aimed at increasing the amount of Scottish Lamb on Scottish shelves," said Mr Adam.

“However, it is also abundantly clear from these results that further work is needed if we are to see Tesco and Asda fully back Scottish sheep farmers. High stocks of imported lamb remain on their shelves meaning that availability of Scottish and UK lamb is now significantly worse than it was at this time last year.

“The clear message for Asda and Tesco from this survey is that Scottish shoppers want to buy tasty Scotch lamb all-year-round. Scottish farmers and crofters deserve better treatment from these major players and the industry is committed to working with them to make that happen.”

Responding to the NFUS study, Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson this week wrote to Tesco chief executive, David Lewis, and Asda’s chief executive, Sean Clarke, to call them to task over their sourcing policy.

"It is disappointing to receive the results of the NFUS survey, particularly when most of the other retailers involved seemed to be able to stock a much higher ratio of Scotch Lamb to other lamb, with Lidl and Aldi achieving 100% in this regard," wrote Mr Stevenson.

“My constituency is one of the foremost livestock-producing areas in the country and the support of retailers is vital to ensuring the success of the industry," he added. "I should be grateful to learn whether your company will be taking any steps to increase the amount of Scotch Lamb stocked in Scottish stores.”