Speaking at a British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) conference last month, Cargill Meats Europe general manager and director Peter Allan said always sourcing British did not guarantee quality, as well as being near impossible for the majority of food businesses.
Beliefs that UK and European meat plants had better standards than those overseas was nonsense and plants in Thailand and Brazil would put some UK and European plants to shame, he said.
“It’s not right to say that if you buy British it will be better quality, that’s simply not true and not proven, it is responsible to provide consumers with choice,” added Allan.
Global supply chains gave consumers and firms value for money “and by their very definition in the least, they will offer value at a time when cost of production is going up” in the UK and Europe, because it can cost less to process outside of the UK, he added.
One in three chicken breasts served in the UK today came from imported chickens, Allan claimed, and said this highlighted the demand and benefits for sourcing outside of the UK.
However, Allan’s claims contradicted a ‘Buy British’ food and drink campaign that was launched by the National Farmers Union last year, in response to the horsemeat scandal. The aim was to get more food firms and consumers to buy British to sustain UK production.
It was believed the horsemeat scandal would encourage British consumers to shop local and buy British, however, “you shouldn’t always buy British,” Compass Group commercial md Oliver Cock told the conference.
“I don’t think that a British supply chain is as straightforward as we think,” Cock said. Even buying meat from your local butcher doesn’t mean you are buying British, because your butcher may not be buying from local sources, he said.
There were a variety of high quality products to be sourced from competent suppliers outside of the UK, which would help businesses provide choice to consumers at a lower price, he said.
For example, if a consumer was presented with a product from overseas, that was produced to the same welfare and ethical standards as those in the UK, but was cheaper, they would take it, he said.
This highlighted the importance of welfare standards over Britishness for consumers, Cock added. He also said results from a Compass Group survey indicated that consumers valued welfare standards over price. But 74% of consumers asked said they wanted to have more information about their food and “not just from bought food, but also from in eating-out establishments”.
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