Just 9 months after the horsemeat scandal revealed that products labelled as beef did, in fact, contain horsemeat, one might have expected the food standards authority to have cracked down on food labelling – particularly when it comes to meat.
But in an investigation broadcast earlier this week by the BBC’s Farming Today programme, a reporter bought a pork chop ‘at random’ from Tesco. It was labelled with the ‘Red Tractor’ logo, which ought to mean that it ‘is fully traceable back to independently inspected farms in the UK’. However, lab tests showed that the meat probably came from a Dutch farm – in fact there’s less than a 1% chance that the meat came from a British farm.
This, however, is quite a different situation from the horsemeat one. In that case, it was low quality, frozen meat products that had been ‘tainted’ with cheaper meat in a bid to reduce the price, and cost to the producer, as much as possible. In the case of the Red Tractor pork chops, it was a fresh, unprocessed meat product, which had been supplied by a company ‘operating at the premium end of the market’.
So what went wrong? According to the British Pig Executive, this is a one-off case of human error, which was a ‘genuine mistake’, rather than an attempt to disguise foreign meat as being British. But at a time when people are actively being encouraged to ‘buy British’ – and when our meat industry is still recovering from the last scandal – it’s vital that consumers can have confidence in their purchases.
It’s not just the consumers who need to have faith in labels such as Red Tractor’s. One farmer on Farming Today estimated that it cost an extra £7 per pig to raise it to Red Tractor welfare standards, compared to the ‘continental, more intensive systems’, which are likely to have been used on the Dutch pork. When you count up how many British pigs are slaughtered for meat every year, that’s a lot of dosh.
Last week, Defra claimed that the EU were planning to place a ban on any symbols on fresh meat packaging that represented the country the meat had come from, in a bid to standardise labelling procedures. This would include the Red Tractor logo, as well as any national flags. The EU has since denied these plans, but the recent discovery might not help Defra’s cause.Tags: Defra, European Union, food labelling, horsemeat, UK politics