Britain’s largest supermarket groups have pledged £2m to aid the farming industry in the wake of the foot and mouth (FMD) crisis. The money is to be paid into a fund to be set up by the Institute of Grocery Distribution. Delegations from the retailers will meet within the next two weeks to discuss how the money will be spent.

Safeway, Tesco, J. Sainsbury, Somerfield, Waitrose, Asda and Marks and Spencer donated the money after weeks of receiving bad press that labelled the supermarkets as profiteering and insensitive to the farmers’ plight. Many industry analysts believe that increasing retail prices for meat on supermarket shelves does not reflect the falling prices farmers are receiving for their slaughtered animals.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair added to the furore by claiming that the supermarkets had farmers and other suppliers “in an arm lock”.

The supermarket chains deny that the cash donation is a PR move, insisting that their motivation is to help repair the beleaguered supply chain for British meat in the long term. Some of the money will also go towards the immediate relief of the crisis, earmarked for the farmers’ charities supported by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

The money was donated relative to the size of each supermarket chain. As the largest, Tesco has parted with £600,000 and a spokesman commented: “”This is a substantial amount of money. But we hope our involvement and commitment to helping is as important.”

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Monetary aid for those affected by foot and mouth has also been offered by businesses such as Barclays Bank. The bank revealed that 25% of its farmer and non-agricultural customers in restricted zones were taking up its offer of a three-month loan break. The North West Development Agency has also donated £1-2m for businesses affected by the disease. CEO Mike Shields commented that the money was pledged because the agency is “extremely concerned” about the effects of FMD on the local economy.

By Clare Harman, editorial team