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Farm Groups Criticise Processors for Labelling Errors

21 January 2013

UK – Processor and retailer action has been demanded by beef sector and farming organisations in response to last week’s ‘horseburger’ scandal after the Irish Food Safety Authority found that food products; including lasagne, cottage pie and burgers contained traces of horse and pig DNA.

Farm groups have been critical of mistakes at the processor/retailer level saying that the rigorous animal monitoring and production standards now in place on farms seem futile if consumer confidence is to be achieved. The NFU have said that farmers’ efforts at the production stage of the supply chain are not being matched further down the line.

Peter Kendall, NFU President, praised the food safety mechanisms within the UK for finding the comingled meat and blamed supermarkets importing cheap meat stating that greater scrutiny and care is required in the control and labelling of food ingredient.

“We need to move this debate on to find lasting solutions by putting an end to co-mingled products which mix UK meat with imported meat, as well as clearer labelling of all ingredients in products to ensure consumers can make a conscious buying decision,” urged Mr Kendall.

“What is particularly concerning is that this revelation comes at a time when farmers are under enormous pressures and consumer confidence is low,” added Mr Kendall who advocates clear meat labelling initiatives to ensure farmers are given recognition and their food clear provenance.

Consumers should be encouraged to buy British beef and look for the assurance marks on packs, like the Red Tractor logo or the Quality Standard Mark (QSM). This is the message of Nick Allen, EBLEX sector director, who is looking at bolstering food security further.

“Our own QSM scheme is independently audited and remains robust. However, in the light of this incident coming to light, we are looking at a pilot project of random DNA testing to beef and lamb produced under our scheme as an additional failsafe.

“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,” added Mr Allen.

Subsequent damage to the reputation of British beef is a huge concern in the farming industry. Marking beef as British has become a matter of producer and consumer pride which is why small, medium and large retailing and processing business are being urged to ensure that meat comingling and traceability problems never happen again.

National Beef Association national chairman Hamish McBean said: “It is obvious that here in the UK consumers, quite rightly, have high regard for the excellence and integrity of beef produced on British farms and that British beef is their favoured purchase.”

“This being the case the National Beef Association is committed to protecting the authenticity that underpins this confidence and it will do all it can to encourage retailers and processors to do all they can to guarantee the cast iron honour of their products,” concluded Mr McBean.

Ethical, cultural and religious issues have been raised by marginal organisations. Liz O’Neill, Head of Communications at the Vegetarian Society, has stated that there are greater implications for certain religious communities.

The issue has caused food analysis experts, Leatherhead Food Research to extend their on-going meat speciation testing programme to include horse meat identification. It is hoped the addition will ease public suspicions through greater scrutiny of food products in the future.

Investigations are to be continued jointly by DEFRA and the FSA to find out who is responsible. Farming Minister, David Heath’s message to the House of Commons on Thursday was that prosecution would be likely if a responsible party could be found.

TheCattleSite News Desk



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