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Britain’s beef producers fight back against horse scandal

By Rick Pendrous , 15-Feb-2013
Last updated on 15-Feb-2013 at 08:11 GMT2013-02-15T08:11:28Z

Britain’s beef farmers have identified the continuing scandal of horse meat in processed meat products as an ideal opportunity to promote UK produce, supplied to Assured Food Standards which guarantee its quality and authenticity.

This weekend the lamb and beef farmer levy-paying body EBLEX and BPEX, the body for pig producers, plan to take a series of advertisements in the national press in an attempt to reassure the public about the high production standards, quality and authenticity of British meat.

“The advert will reassure consumers about the stringent standards of production, the full traceability and rigorous independent auditing of British meat,” said John Godfrey, chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the umbrella organisation for EBLEX and BPEX. Godfrey was speaking at the AHDB’s Outlook 2013 conference held in London this week (February 13).

As DNA analysis identifies horse meat in a growing number of processed foods, ranging from beef burgers to ready meals, the delegates were told that – provided Britain’s beef producers maintained the integrity of their domestic supply chain – they could promote the high standards of domestic beef at the expense of imports.

Consumer trust

Godfrey said the discovery of horse protein contamination in a wide range of products supposedly made from minced beef over the past month had “created a significant issue of consumer trust and integrity of our food supply chains”.

“This reinforces my belief that we must better communicate the benefits of whole chain assurance schemes, such as Red Tractor and our own quality standard mark,” said Godfrey. “I believe that we have singularly failed to get the message across to the consumer and the media that if they buy products with these quality marks – or even from their local butchers – they should be more confident their food is as labelled.”

Godfrey said much had been done to “reduce the number of links” in the dedicated “added value supply chain” between British farmers and consumers to guarantee product integrity. He added: “We at AHDB will continue to work to ensure that the consumer is provided with safe, wholesome and nutritious food.”

As beef prices continue to rise across Europe, the potential rewards for illegal substitution of cheaper protein in products by fraudulent operators becomes increasingly attractive – particularly for use in cheaper processed foods. “High beef prices are here to stay,” said Debbie Butcher, a senior analyst with EBLEX.

'High beef prices here to stay'

However, she told delegates this also provided an ideal opportunity for British farmers to promote their premium beef, with clear traceability and animals produced to high welfare and quality standards.

Consumer awareness about horse contamination is high, said Butcher. “But the good news is, it’s a process issue and they know it’s a process issue,” she added. “Very few consumers are associating this story with fresh beef and that’s good news. There is definitely a trust issue with retailers.”

Across the EU, the quality of beef produced and that stocked by retailers was falling all of the time, said EBLEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier. But the demand for higher quality products was rising, he added. This presented a great opportunity for the type of premium grass-fed beef supplied by UK producers.

Earlier this week, Waitrose revealed plans to build its own frozen meat plant at Dovecote Park in Yorkshire.

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