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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK

Business: The Company File

Somerfield joins French ban

British beef was given the all-clear in the summer

A second UK supermarket chain has joined the boycott of French produce in protest at the French refusal to lift the ban on British beef.

Pete Williams spokesman for Somerfield
Somerfield, which has 600 outlets across Britain, said it had decided to stop selling French apples as soon as possible.

The chain, which claims to be Britain's biggest neighbourhood grocer, said it had doubled supplies of English apples and was "squeezing French apples off the shelf." It says it will also import apples from Italy and Belgium.

[ image: Second supermarket chain joins the campaign]
Second supermarket chain joins the campaign
Farmers' leaders welcomed the decision and said it was a further example of the "outrage" being felt throughout Britain at French intransigence over the beef ban.

A spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union said: "British beef farmers have done everything to satisfy the European Commission and its member states that British beef is safe.

"British consumers know it is safe and both farmers and consumers are puzzled, bemused and outraged at the continuing stance of the French.

"We are not asking retailers to introduce boycotts on French products but we are asking consumers to vote with their feet and boycott French produce.

On Wednesday, the Budgen supermarket chain said it was boycotting French produce in support of frustrated British beef farmers.

Budgen's, which has 116 local supermarkets in the south of England, introduced a ban on French apples and pears and is stocking British-grown varieties instead.

But Budgen's continues to stock large quantities of French cheese, including Brie and Roquefort.

The French have insisted they will not accept British beef because of continuing health concerns over BSE, or mad-cow disease, while the German government has also prevaricated over lifting the worldwide ban on British beef imposed by the European Union.

Other stores say angry UK shoppers are imposing their own boycotts on French goods.

[ image: Second supermarket chain joins the campaign]
Second supermarket chain joins the campaign
The UK's biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, has reported a huge drop in sales of French fresh produce, French dressing and Dijon mustard.

In Hatherleigh, Devon, a strong farming county, town leaders have persuaded all 26 shops and pubs to stop stocking French goods.

Top hotels and restaurants have also struck French dishes off their menus, as the row over beef exports escalates.

Hope to start a trend

Stephanie Rice spokesperson for Budgens
Budgen's said its stocks of French apples and pears would be removed by next Sunday.

Marketing director Stephanie Rice said: "This new move is designed to enforce our support of the British farming industry in the face of unfair action by the French government.

"I hope that our competitors, who are considerably larger than Budgen's, follow this example."

'Good news for UK'

Tesco said it was not actively boycotting French goods but that shoppers appeared to be making their own choices.

Sales of French apples had slumped 20% - a loss of millions of pounds' worth of business to French producers.

Spokesman Peter Durose said: "This is the most dramatic fall in French apple sales I have ever seen.

"Customers have been infuriated by the French decision to ban our beef and are striking back by refusing to buy French produce.

"It's bad news for the French but great news for Britain. The boycott will generate millions of pounds of extra business for local growers."

The National Farmers Union said the issue raised the question of why people were not buying British in the first place, saying: "We want to encourage them to buy British all the time."

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