22 July 1997
Tesco stops buying meat over TV claims
By Boyd Champness
THE spotlight has turned onto UK meat processors over the past week with Tesco suspending purchases from a main supplier over poor practices and the government closing two plants for their alleged roll in the illegal beef smuggling scam.
Leading supermarket chain Tesco has suspended meat purchases from St Merryn Meats in Bodmin, Cornwall, following an investigative report on Granada Television last night which showed meat being packed after falling on the floor.
Undercover reporters from World In Action spent two months as general meat packers at the plant secretly filming the actions of St Merryn staff. One worker openly boasted to the hidden camera that he had shovelled mince from off the floor in the past and put it back into the processing chain.
Tescos corporate affairs manager for produce Mr David Sawday said Tesco felt as though it had been let down by its supplier, and would now introduce tougher inspection measures for its meat suppliers. Tesco has said that the suspension on St Merryn Meats will remain in place until the plant satisfies the companys health requirements.
The programme also brings into question the effectiveness of the Meat Hygiene Service, which is responsible for inspecting plants, after the MHS had previously given the Bodmin plant a clean bill of health. The MHS has been criticised by the Government in the past and has been told to lift its game by cracking down on plants with poor hygiene records.
A St Merryn spokesman said: The programme depicted a small number of individuals out of a workforce of 600 who were seen compromising the companys strict hygiene rules. We are taking disciplinary action against those members of staff.
He said what the programme didnt show was that the Bodmin plant was a new line which has just started up. He said the company now had some management problems to sort out.
We have closed the plant to re-train staff and we will do everything in our power to regain the confidence of Tesco. We regard this as a minor blip against a company with a very successful track record, the spokesman said.
St Merryn Meats, which has eight plants, is the biggest supplier of meat to Tesco. Both companies had prided themselves on the hygiene standards at the Bodmin plant which supplies less than 5% of Tescos meat products.
Freedom Foods, the group set-up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, has also suspended purchases from the St Merryn plant. Freedom Foods was formed to promote humanely grown food and the company maintains that the welfare of animals has not been compromised in any way.
However, Freedom Foods press officer Justine Punnett said the company was very concerned about allegations made in the programme that free range meat from Freedom Food farms was often mixed with non-Freedom Farm meat. She said the company was conducting its own audit and would react when the results of that audit come to light. Freedom Foods sources less than 1% of its supplies from the Bodmin plant.
Freedom Foods is expected to make a profit this year of £93,000 after three years of losses. The RSPCA has spent £2 million getting the project up and running and the number of organic farms supplying to the group has risen from 35 in 1996 to 133 this year.
Last week the government closed down two plants over their alleged role in the illegal smuggling of British beef to Europe despite the 16-month world-wide ban on British beef products. Farm minister Jack Cunningham said the two plants had also fallen down on hygiene standards.