7 September 2001

Meat imports failing to match UK standards

By Isabel Davies

RETAILERS have been accused of importing significant amounts of meat that fails to meet UK production standards.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council – the body that advises the government on animal welfare issues – has questioned claims by supermarkets that overseas suppliers are required to meet the same farm assurance standards as UK producers.

In an interim report called Animal Welfare Implications of Farm Assurance Schemes, the FAWC expressed concern about the level of consistency retailers apply to imported and domestic products.

"Some of the retailers claim to ensure parity of production standards between suppliers in this country and overseas suppliers in relation to farm assured products," said the report.

"But we have not seen any evidence so far to demonstrate that inspections/audits of overseas suppliers are on a par with the systems in place in this country."

The report added that suppliers abroad are left to conduct their own inspections, with only random audits by the retailers themselves. "This aspect is crucial if farm assurance is not to act so as to discriminate against domestic suppliers but to provide assurance to consumers regarding the provenance of the food they eat."

Judy MacArthur Clark, chairwoman of the group, said: "The level of auditing overseas is not the same. The vast majority of processed food will be imported and much of that will not be farm assured."

Dr MacArthur Clark said the council was also concerned that retailers did not publicise scheme standards. Its report stated: "We believe this is illogical and unacceptable and tantamount to their assuring a quality that they are unwilling to define."

Dr MacArthur Clark added that the report aimed to fuel debate on the issue of farm assurance because although schemes have helped to raise welfare standards they must be developed further.

A spokesman for the supermarkets representative body, the British Retail Consortium, insisted that any meat imported and then processed in the UK was produced to the same standards as the domestically produced product.

But he admitted that meat processed before it was imported only had to meet standards set by the processor. &#42