Calls for retailer action in wake of horsemeat scandal

UK livestock representatives have called on retailers to re-examine their sourcing and labelling policies in the wake of the horsemeat burger scandal.

With an investigation into how traces of equine and porcine DNA ended up in beef burgers, sold in major retailers, currently under way by UK and Irish food safety chiefs, farmers have expressed their frustration at being let down by those higher up in the supply chain.

“The events of the past few days have severely undermined confidence in the UK food industry, and farmers are rightly angry that the integrity of stringent UK-farmed products is being compromised by using cheaper imported alternatives, which, evidence suggests, do not meet the robust traceability systems we have in the UK,” said Peter Kendall. “Farmers are equally concerned that the high standards and traceability they have to meet through farm assurance are not being upheld throughout the supply chain.”

Particular concerns were raised over “co-mingled products”, which mix UK and imported meat, with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and red meat levy body Eblex both calling for a debate on the practice, and clearer labelling of ingredients.

“Co-mingling of meats of different country of origin has been repeatedly raised by consumers as a concern in recent years,” said Nick Allen, Eblex sector director. “We would support calls for clear, simple labelling and welcome a debate on the issue. Origin is important to people. They want to know provenance and exactly what is in the product they are buying.

“While it is accepted that lower-value meat products are unlikely to contain as high a proportion of beef than at the quality end of the market, the contents still need to be clearly labelled on the packet.”

Kendall said that retailers needed to “engage better” with the Red Tractor label, increasing the use of the logo on pack, and focusing on the “longer-term sustainability” of their UK supply chains.

Allen encouraged consumers to look out for assurance marks, such as the Red Tractor label and the Quality Standard Mark, adding that Eblex was looking at introducing random DNA testing on QSM products as an “additional failsafe” to guarantee their quality and provenance.
 
“We await with interest the outcome of the investigation into how the horsemeat found its way into value beef burgers. We can then look at making sure it cannot happen again,” he said.

The National Beef Association (NBA) has also spoken out over the incident, warning that it raised doubts over the accuracy of country-of-origin labelling on meat products.

“If a high proportion of horsemeat can find its way into a beef burger, who is to say what else might happen on packing lines used by companies that process cattle from more than one country and sell a range of products containing a wide variety of cuts taken from different parts of the carcase,” said NBA national chairman Hamish McBean.

He said the NBA would do all it could to encourage retailers and processors to “guarantee the cast-iron honour of their products”.

“We therefore urge every supermarket chain, small, medium or huge, to make every effort to ensure that country of origin, in particular, is not compromised and to accept that if they have labelled the beef in a pack as British, then only beef that is British can be in the pack.”

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