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Posted Feb 24 2010 8:27am

You may think that the meat that went into the pie you bought labelled ‘ Produced in the UK’ came from Britain, but you could well be wrong! Now that’s all about to change.

Many of us keen to support British farmers, and concerned about animal welfare, opt to buy British products when doing our shopping. However, because of a loophole, where meat has been imported from another country and undergone substantial change within Britain, up until now it has been permissible to label it as being ‘Produced in the UK’. This means that, for example, foreign meat used in making a pie has been transformed by covering it in pastry. This process has happened in Britain and so the pie itself becomes a ‘British Product’, thus misleading the consumer into, not unsurprisingly, assuming that the meat it contains has been farmed in Britain. The benefit for British retailers - and in particular the large supermarkets - in doing this, is that they are able to buy cheap meat from other countries where the standards of animal welfare are lower and the cost of production therefore relatively inexpensive.

The changes that are now proposed with regard to labelling, apply to the sale of pork, bacon and ham. In 1999, after much campaigning, Britain introduced a new set of rules in relation to the welfare of pigs, with particular relevance to overcrowding, and the treatment of pregnant sows. The implications for farmers in terms of extra production costs led to a massive forty per cent decline in Britain’s pig herds, with a consequent soaring in the importation of foreign pig meat.

In the new move to end shoppers being misled about the origins of the meat they buy, the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, has announced that the big supermarkets (Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Morrison, Asda, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op), together with McDonald’s, Wetherspoon and Whitbread, have signed up to a voluntary code of practice stating how foreign meat should be labelled. They have agreed that the country of origin should be clearly displayed. Where relevant a product should denote that an item is ‘Produced in the UK using pork from (country of origin)’

While the move has been welcomed, many feel that a voluntary code doesn’t go far enough, in that it allows meat producers, retailers and caterers to opt out. It is only by introducing compulsory measures that shoppers can be guaranteed that the British label means that what they’re buying truly is British.

A press release by Friends of the Earth in response to the announcement, pointed out that meat labelling was only part of a wider problem. Senior food campaigner Vicki Hird said: ‘labelling meat as British fails to address the damaging impact of imported animal feeds - UK factory farms are driving environmental destruction in South America because rainforests are being cleared to grow soy.

“The Government must support planet-friendly British farming by helping farmers to grow animal feed here in the UK, and provide shoppers with meat that’s UK born, bred and fed.”







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