Posted on Thursday 14 March 2013 by Ulster Business
Mr Clarke was speaking at the launch of Queen's University Belfast's £33m Institute of Global Food Security which aims to improve global food safety through the establishment of an international 'food-fortress' in Belfast.
The Tesco chief said that while he has long been of the view that the company needed to work more closely with producers, the horsemeat crisis has demonstrated the need to move more quickly on the issue than he first thought necessary.
Horse meat has been found in products branded as beef and sold by a number of supermarket chains over the past few months, leading to concerns over food traceability in increasingly global food supply chains.
"I am very clear that the best way to have more control of the meat supply chain is to produce more of it closer to home. We know our customers' appetite for products from the UK and Ireland is greater than ever and we want to give them every opportunity to buy products produced locally. We already do a lot to support Northern Irish agriculture, but I think we can go even further," said Mr Clarke.
"My aim is to source as much of what we sell in Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland. It's what our customers want, it's what we want. So today I am pleased to announce that we are doubling the amount we spend on buying fresh beef, pork and chicken from Northern Ireland farmers. That will mean that within the next few weeks, we will go from sourcing less than 20% of the meat we sell here locally to around 90%. And we're not going to stop there - we're going to do everything within our power to get as close as we can to 100%."
Mr Clarke added: "The three pillars of safety, quality and authenticity on which this Institute is so focused have always been vital to grow a position in the food supply chain. But as I stand here today, they will be more important than ever. Everyone here has a part to play, and so does this new Institute at Queen's, and I wish it every success and will follow its development with interest."
Tesco is the largest customer for food producers on the island of Ireland buying £1bn of foodstuffs each year. Mr Clarke addressed an audience of 250 invited guests in the University's Riddel Hall on 'Competing in a changing global food supply chain' and also met representatives from leading food companies during a high-level roundtable discussion on the sector.
Currently the production and processing of food plays a critical role in the Northern Ireland economy, with the sector providing 85,000 jobs and generating sales of £5.2bn each year.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill welcomed the commitment from Tesco, saying: "I have for some time been encouraging the major supermarket outlets that they should be increasing the amount of local produce sourced.
"Especially in light of falling farm incomes, high feed costs and the fallout from the recent horsemeat controversy, today's news from Tesco that it is to greatly increase the amount of fresh meat it sources locally will be welcomed by farmers across the north. I would urge the other major supermarket retailers to follow the lead set by Tesco and increase the amount that they source locally."