Producers are cranking up their campaign to force retailers and caterers to come clean on the origins and welfare standards of the pork they sell.
Under its PorkWatch campaign, the farmer-led National Pig Association (NPA) will 'name and shame' supermarkets if two-monthly 'audits' of their stores find that fresh pork, bacon, ham and sausages do not meet UK legal standards or carry the British Meat Quality Standard mark.
The British Pig Executive (BPEX) is supporting the initiative as is the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC). According to BPEX, two-thirds of imported pork and pork products in 2003 came from pigs raised to standards that would be illegal here.
"Over 90% of consumers believe that imported meat should be raised to the same standards as required in Britain," said the MLC chairman Peter Barr. "What we want to see and what our consumers want is products sourced to UK legal specifications, clear origin labelling at the point of purchase and transparent audit systems to prove origin."
Simon Brookes, BPEX's business sector manager, added: "We are not anti imports, but we want them to have the same welfare and quality assurance standards as British-produced pork."
Cost was a concern, he said: "If a retailer brings in non-welfare friendly product, it is a hell of a lot cheaper and that's not a level playing field."
Tesco and McDonald's have signed up to the initiative, while Marks & Spencer and Waitrose are believed to already comply. Pig farmers are targeting Morrison, Asda, Sainsbury, the Co-op, Somerfield and Whitbread because their record is worse, claimed BPEX.
The campaigners hope that the targeting of retailers and caterers will force processors such as Grampian Foods and Flagship Foods' subsidiaries Roach and Dalehead to come into line.
"We can have a go at the processors, but the best place to do that is to put pressure on them from their own customers," said Brookes.
The NPA has recently published best practice guidelines on the labelling of pig meat products.
Compulsory tests would save lives
The recent E.coli outbreak in County Durham highlights yet again how public health continues to be put at risk from an absence of strict food safety testing.
A hospitalised one-year old and a 75-year old were in the age groups at most serious risk from food poisoning. Stricter controls would help prevent such incidents.
In 2000, 500 people died in the UK as a result of food poisoning and more than 1.3m people suffered symptoms, at an estimated cost to the health service and the food industry of £1.5bn.
Most consumers wrongly assume that all food products have passed stringent tests. These tests are not mandatory and many products still reach shops without being fully tested, leaving us all unnecessarily vulnerable to harmful bacteria which cause serious illness and even death. Food poisoning is mostly preventable, illustrating a clear need for speedy and accurate compulsory food safety tests, so that contaminated products can be removed well before they reach the consumer.
Changes in our eating habits mean that we are more likely to be exposed to harmful bacteria than ever before; we eat out more often and consume an increasing amount of convenience foods.
The expansion of the European Union also emphasises the need for tighter regulatory controls.
Consumers and industry should benefit from wider choice, but increasing internationalisation of food production will need careful policing to ensure compliance and protect national health.
Chief executive Alaska Food Diagnostics
New lease of life for old mobiles
Many readers may not realise that old mobile telephones and used printer cartridges could benefit the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.
The items can be recycled and the proceeds used to help fund vital research into the early detection, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer and to provide support for sufferers and their families. With 38,000 people diagnosed each year and 80% of those not surviving longer than 12 months, the disease kills more people than any other cancer in the UK.
So why not help the earth and support a worthwhile cause? Call 0872 505050 or visit http://www.recyclingappeal.com/roycastle.
Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation