13 November 1998

MAFFrebuffs pig criticism

MAFF has strongly denied claims that it misunderstood the British Retail Consortium position statement on pigmeat sourcing and labelling.

The major retailers, the BRC and farm minister Nick Brown met to discuss labelling and sourcing of imported meat last week (News, Nov 6).

The BRC told the minister that its members would no longer label imported meat that had been processed in the UK as British. It also said that pigmeat sold in their outlets would be sourced from stall-and-tether-free systems by January 1999.

The details were confirmed by Mr Brown during an agricultural debate in the Commons, in a MAFF statement and within a BRC position statement.

But the BRC later rewrote its statement replacing imported meat with the phrase imported fresh meat.

A BRC spokesperson said that the MAFF release, which did not include the word fresh, was wrong.

"MAFF press officers were not at the meeting and were mistaken in assuming the BRC statement covered all meat and not just fresh meat when preparing their press release," she said.

But a senior member of MAFFs press office team was at the meeting and he has said that not only did he understand, but that a BRC representative agreed that the MAFF release was correct. And he added that the retailers representative agreed the position statement covered, bacon, fresh and frozen meat.

Earlier in the week, shadow farm minister Tim Yeo, in a letter to Nick Brown, demanded to know if the minister had deliberately misled the House. He called on him to clarify the position and to take steps to ensure that such claims were not made in the future.

Meanwhile, Compassion In World Farming cast further doubt on the significance of the BRC statement on sourcing stall-and-tether-free meat.

"It appears that some of the pledges made by the retailers to source stall- and-tether-free pigmeat by Jan 1 1999 will not now be honoured. One of the major retailers in particular has back-tracked on its pledge," said a spokesman.