17 May 2002

Beckett backs foreign

meat in campaign week

By Jonathan Riley

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett has backed a food campaign supported by a restaurant chain that buys 60% of its meat from abroad.

Mrs Beckett praised the Go Eat campaign – an initiative organised by the Restaurant Association as part of National Restaurant Week – in a Daily Express newspaper feature last Saturday (May 11).

In the eight-page feature which listed the locations of 180 Beefeater restaurants Mrs Beckett was quoted as saying that the campaign "highlights all that is great about restaurants in Britain".

She added: "The recent report from the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food highlights many issues that restaurants in their own way address. These include the use of locally produced food and serving local specialities."

"As a result, they have the opportunity to show a commitment to the local economy and to helping to re-establish links with the food we eat and the countryside around us. I wish the initiative every success."

But as thousands of tonnes of meat imports land on the UK market depressing prices (see Business p23) a spokeswoman for the Beefeater restaurant chain openly admitted that the company sourced 60% of its meat from outside the UK.

"I cant say where it is sourced. All I can say is that we buy from countries where we get the quality and cuts of meat we require for our restaurants – British farmers cannot meet those requirements," she added.

The companys inclusion in the restaurant week promotion angered many farmers who contacted FARMERS WEEKLY.

Stan Pugh of Asperton Farm, Wigtoft, Lincs, told FW that he was angered and dismayed that Mrs Beckett could be party to a campaign that indirectly backed imported food.

And Devon farmer and food campaigner Robert Persey said: "Isnt it a scandal that many people eating in restaurants havent got a clue about what they are putting on their plate?"

But a Meat and Livestock Commission spokesman said Beefeater should be encouraged. "We have been working with Beefeater for many years and that they are sourcing 40% British meat is a marked improvement. A few years ago the situation was much worse – they should be encouraged."

Chief executive of the Restaurant Association Ian McKerracher said: "The week was organised to support a charity and celebrate eating out.

"We dont determine who takes part and the initiative is open to non-members. I am pleased to have made contact with Farmers Weekly because restaurateurs understand the benefits of using local food and want to use more.

"One of our stumbling blocks is that farmers produce to meet supermarket requirements and not necessarily the requirements of the restaurateur." &#42