Butchers in beef labelling warning

Butchers are being warned to be wary of making claims on beef products or face being prosecuted for "telling the truth", industry leaders have warned.

Beef labelling regulations, introduced in 2000 following the BSE crisis, mean butchers making any claims over their beef products such as source, breed or maturation need to pay to have them verified by a third party. However, recent cases in Scotland, which have seen two butchers fall foul of the regulations, have prompted industry organisations to remind traders of the danger.

Both the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association (SFMTA) and the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders (NFMFT) brand the regulations as ridiculous, but Douglas Scott, chief executive of the SFMTA, said some Trading Standards departments in Scotland appeared to be paying closer attention to the rules, particularly when it came to selling online. "People in government aren't going round butcher's shops, but they are happy to look at websites," he said.

Michael Gibson, a farmer and butcher who runs Macbeth's in Forres, has fallen foul of the legislation and, even though he sells meat from his own cattle, is unable to advertise the fact to consumers. "It's a bizarre situation we're not even allowed to use the information that is from government documents the cattle passports. In this day of open information, I find the situation diabolical."

He said this had become more of an issue in the past six months, adding: "It seems to me they now have beef labelling in the same bracket as speed cameras."

In another Scottish case, H M Sheridan's in Ballater was told to remove signage that listed the sources for the shop's beef.

However, the Scottish Executive said the regulations had always been enforced since inception, and played down the idea that enforcement was being stepped up. A statement added: "The beef labelling regime is being reviewed to determine areas where we can reduce red tape and compliance costs to business, while, at the same time, ensuring claims can be verified and consumer confidence in the Scottish brand strengthened. We will also be pushing in Brussels to secure controls that are more proportionate to the needs of smaller businesses."

Graham Bidston, chief executive of the NFMFT, said: "If we start to see stronger enforcement, one of two things will happen: people will have to tighten up their procedures, or they won't make any claims. That would be a real shame as you'll be denying the public the information they want to have."

Scott added: "I would like to see a case go to court, because I want to see how a judge can prosecute someone for telling the truth."

>>Consumers want country-of-origin meat labelling

>>LMC appeals for compulsory labelling

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