24 December 1999
Farmer challenges store on pigmeat labels
By Donald MacPhail
A PIG farmer has challenged supermarket bosses to test his claims that consumers wanting British produce are being duped into buying imported meat products.
Mick Proctor says the vast majority of shoppers believe pigmeat products with labels saying they are produced in the UK contain meat from this country.
Yet at present, the country of origin is often unclear, as imported pigmeat can be labelled British simply because it was processed in the UK.
Some imported meat is produced by the cheaper, but less welfare-friendly stall-and -tether system which was outlawed in Britain this year.
Mr Proctor says consumers would be shocked to discover the meat could be imported and reared under welfare standards illegal in this country.
To prove this, he is offering to meet executives from the Somerfield chain – the target of several pig-farmer protests – at a randomly picked store, and quiz consumers buying pigmeat products.
Mr Procter, from Mendlesham, Suffolk, said: “Id like to ask 10 customers if they think they are buying British when they buy meat labelled produced in the UK.
“I believe nine out of 10 would think it was British.
“If Somerfield believes it is not deceiving the public, then Im sure it can agree to this challenge.”
Mr Proctor, who has seen his herd decline from 250 to 150 sows, threw down the gauntlet after he and around 20 other members of the British Pig Industry Support Group visited a Somerfield store at Diss, Norfolk, earlier this week.
The farmers filled trolleys with pigmeat products and asked staff to verify whether the meat was from the UK and if it could be guaranteed quality-assured.
Despite a lengthy telephone conversation with Somerfield quality assurance executive Steven Ridge, the group could not get the assurances they wanted and left the produce.
A spokeswoman for Somerfield said Mr Proctor would be more than welcome to put his challenge in writing for consideration by Mr Ridge.
She said the company tried to source UK pigmeat for its own-brand products wherever possible.
Where supply shortages meant it had to look abroad, it insisted on UK welfare standards, which it enforced by audit.
She said Somerfield was trying to persuade non-brand suppliers to do the same.
The spokeswoman said the group adhered to EU labelling and next year planned to go one step further and introduce clearer labelling.
It is unclear whether this comes under agriculture minister Nick Browns pledge to improve labelling.
She added: “We are trying to do as much as we can to work with farmers but, with 1400 stores in the group, we cant do everything in a day.”
This summer, farmers blockaded Somerfield distribution depots in protest at the companys pigmeat buying and labelling policies.
A 1998 poll by the British Pig Association found the Somerfield group to be one of the least supportive of the industry.
The British Pig Executive, the marketing arm of the pig industry, says British farmers have lost more than £320 million since May of last year.
One estimate predicted one-third of Britains 7500 pig farmers could quit the industry before the end of the year.
Producers blame their plight on extra welfare costs, the strong Pound, a global glut of pigmeat and knock-on effects from the BSE crisis.