BRITAIN'S big supermarket chains are failing to support the countryside and wider rural economy, claims a report.
The study – by the Campaign to Protect Rural England – asked the leading seven supermarkets what they were doing to support farmers and food producers.
CPRE supporters sent more than 7,000 emails to the chief executives of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, M&S, the Co-operative and Waitrose.
The results uncovered some "interesting initiatives", but the CPRE said it believed all the major supermarkets could do a lot better.
CPRE senior food and farming campaigner Ian Woodhurst said supermarkets dominated the grocery sector and the UK food chain.
"Given this, they need to use their immense market power to support the nation's farmers, the countryside they manage, and boost sales of local food."
The CPRE is calling on supermarkets to pay farmers a fair price for their produce – by taking into account fluctuations in the cost of fertiliser, diesel and animal feed into pricing formulas.
It also wants retailers to stock and promote more 'countryside friendly' food – supporting schemes that help farmers to manage landscape features and wildlife habitats.
Shorten supply chains by setting challenging targets for stocking local food - CPRE would like to see at least 10% of sales in a supermarket come within 30 miles.
Mr Woodhurst said: "The horsemeat scandal has shown what can happen to the food chain if there is a race to the bottom on price.
"The same lessons need to be learnt to secure a better future for farming and the countryside, as well as to boost local food economies."
A more "joined up approach" would enable consumers to buy high quality food, knowing the farmer had been paid a fair price while maintaining the beauty of the English countryside."
The British Retail Consortium, which represents retailers, said UK supermarkets were huge supporters of UK agriculture.
Some 75% of fresh food sold in UK stores was raised or grown in the UK.
There was no formal definition of 'local' food, and customer perception of 'local' will vary with region and product, said the BRC.
Retailers increasingly labelled where in the UK food had been produced and promoted it in those regions. British produce was clearly labelled 'British' and extensively sold.
Retailers were also working closely with smaller producers to increase their access to major retailers, the BRC said.
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