17 May 2002

BECKETTBACKSFOREIGNMEATBYSUPPORTING BEEFEATERCHAINWEEK

Should vicars swear in church? Should doctors abuse patients? Should a government minister, allegedly in charge of UK rural affairs, help to promote meat imports? The last is a question we never imagined it would be necessary to ask – even of this urban-focused and egocentric government. Sadly, we were wrong.

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett is backing National Restaurant Week featuring the Beefeater chain of restaurants which admits to importing more than 60% of the meat it serves. Either Mrs Beckett did not know Beefeaters lacklustre support for British meat or she did know and chose to ignore the fact.

Both suggestions are equally hard to countenance. Particularly as doubts about the Beefeaters commitment to British meat have been raised in the past by organisations such as the Meat and Livestock Commission.

National Restaurant Week, with its Go Eat! logo, is intended to, as its media sponsor The Daily Express proclaims, "celebrate Britains culinary kaleidoscope." Some of the restaurants featured are doubtless proud to celebrate the best of home-produced meat, vegetables and fruit.

But Beefeater, which prefers to buy more than half of its meat from abroad, seems not to share that passion. Yet the companys restaurants account for up to two-thirds of those taking part in the promotion.

We should recognise that the scheme is aiming to raise £50,000 for Macmillan Cancer Relief, which does so much to help alleviate the suffering both in rural and urban Britain. But should a government minister, albeit indirectly, help to put foreign meat on the nations plates?

Worse, rubbing salt into raw wounds, Mrs Beckett has the gall in the promotional literature to praise "the use of locally-produced food serving the local economy". What a pity its farmers near Buenos Aires not Bridgwater or Bridgnorth who could benefit. Now that is enough to tempt bad language from any country vicar.