BBC uncovers local meat 'con'

Consumers are being "conned" when it comes to local claims on beef in some restaurants, farmers have warned. An investigation by the BBC in the south-west of England found more than 20% of samples of supposedly "local" beef, taken from 40 foodservice outlets across the region, were found to be of South American or African origin. DNA testing carried out by the BBC revealed eight of the meat samples originated from Zebu cattle. South-west farmer Jilly Greed, from the National Beef Association, who first flagged the problem to the BBC, said: "The restaurants are claiming the meat is local, but it is so far from local it's a real consumer con." She said the industry was now hoping the Food Standards Agency, Defra and Trading Standards would now be forced to act against outlets passing off meat as British or local. "Consumers are paying a premium for local product, while the food- service operator will be paying less. They're making more margin and exploiting the consumer." She said the BBC report would hopefully move things up a gear: "If this situation is not acted upon, it will only get worse. Consumer demand for local product is only going to increase." Greed added there needed to be greater transparency in the foodservice sector: "The sector is not audited; there's no traceability unlike the retail area. Getting something in place could make a huge difference to the UK beef industry." The news has been greeted as disappointing by meat bosses. EBLEX pointed to an NOP survey, commissioned by the sector body last year, which showed 60% of those questioned believed restaurants should provide written information on the country of origin of the meat they serve. European Beef Labelling Regulations dictate that all beef should be labelled with its origin when supplied to catering establishments and EBLEX said it was confident reputable catering butchers provide correct information. EBLEX chief executive Richard Lowe said: "We encourage all caterers to provide information to consumers about where their meat comes from and, when it can be shown that false information has been given, Trading Standards must take action."

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