My beef with Tesco over meat labelling ~ Tesco-Complaint

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My beef with Tesco over meat labelling

DAN BURGLASS writes in The Scotsman that SUPERMARKETS are a fact of life and, over the past 30 years, the intense competition between the major operators has resulted in a massive decline in the real cost of the shopping basket.

However, while the shareholders who invested in these monoliths have stacked up healthy dividends and seen their capital worth increase enormously, not everyone is a winner.

I find that consumers are becoming increasingly confused, especially in regard to labelling and sell-by dates. I reckon that I am normally a fairly calm person, but my blood pressure must have shot up to a dangerously high level on Saturday during a visit to the local Tesco. Among the various items on the shopping list was some cold meat, preferably beef, to go with a salad. Sure enough, I found pre-cooked beef in a packet.

Ever one to read the small print on the labels, even though occasionally it requires something akin to a magnifying glass, I scrutinised the fine detail. There was no complaint with the declaration that there was no added water and that each 105 grams of the product contained 100 grams of raw beef. That satisfied me, but my eyes moved on down the label to the part titled "additional information". This was getting more interesting, but it was then that the real sense of confusion set in: "Tesco assured beef [comes] from farms in the UK, EU or South America."

To my mind that is simply not good enough and is thoroughly misleading. But since there was no "red tractor logo" or the Specially Selected Scotch branding, I suspect that the beef originated in South America since very little beef is imported from the EU into this country. So why cannot Tesco, and its competitors, inform customers from which specific country particular products are sourced? The packet of beef remains unopened. My inclination is to put it in a jiffy bag and dispatch it poste haste to Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy with a note requesting him to explain just what the label means. However, by the time it arrives on his desk it will be well past its ridiculously short recommended sell-by date!

Later that afternoon, in the pub during the half-time break in the rugby international in Paris, I put that object of my concern on the bar and asked a couple of friends to have a good look at the label. I was pleased to discover very quickly that I was not the only to be confused over the country of origin sentence. "Well, where does it come from?" asked Sandy. I could not help him.

But it is not just that single packet that is causing confusion. In recent weeks, the National Beef Association, along with NFU Scotland, has highlighted the practice of "co-mingling". This occurs when the multiples have beef from different countries in the same display cabinet. This is contrary to EU regulations, but it is widespread. There is at least one major store in the heart of Edinburgh where beef from Scotland, the UK and South America is all on display in the same cabinet. I raised the matter with the store supervisor, only to be met with a shrug and advice to write to the relevant head office if I was not happy. It should not be left to consumers to enforce the rules. That is what trading standards officers are supposed to be doing.

I am also intrigued by the claim that all Tesco beef comes from "assured farms". I can accept that declaration in respect of UK beef. Indeed, Scotland led the way in the entire concept of farm assurance and one of the pioneers in that field was the late Sir Alistair Grant in his time as head of Safeway. I recall interviewing him in his office in London's Park Lane as part of an item for BBC Scotland's television's farming programme, Landward.

Grant was a great enthusiast for farm assurance, stating quite categorically that this was the way ahead. The initial reaction from many farmers who saw the programme ranged from outright scorn to that of fearing that the principle would lead to further costs for the industry and that they would only consider joining up if they were to be guaranteed a premium. But there were some visionaries, not the least of whom was Maitland Mackie, that eponymous agri-business operator from Aberdeenshire. Maitland said all those years ago that it was not a case of expecting a premium for being assured, but rather finding it increasingly difficult to find a market, even at discounted values, if a business was not assured, and to increasingly high standards. Of course, Maitland has been vindicated and now virtually all the beef, lamb, pork, milk and cereals produced on Scottish farms is assured, and to a very high level with independent certification.

And that brings me back to imports of beef from South America. There is no possibility of the EU producing all the beef it requires and recent figures from Revenue and Customs reveal that, during past year, the UK imported 41,200 tonnes from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Production standards vary, but a clandestine visit by the Irish Farmers' Association last year concluded that very few of the units they viewed in Brazil would comply with EU protocols. Publication of the findings strained relations between Dublin and Brazil, but consumers have a right to know how their food is produced. Shoppers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with a growing thirst for accurate information, fuelled by the popular media picking up quickly on any shortcomings on the part of UK farmers. The concept of fair trade is admirable, but it must be fair and equitable for everyone. A more robust labelling regime on the part of supermarkets would be a good place to begin.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you the local bore?

TM said...

I almost fell asleep reading it too.

So where did he want his beef to come from? I'm sure if it stated either UK, EU or South America, then he would have bought it regardless. The answer is, if you don't want beef from any of those countries, don't buy the product.

If all these fuss pots weren't so over priviledged they would just eat what was available. There are more pressing issues to worry about. What about starving people? Would they give a monkeys about which country the beef came from? I think not.

TM = TESCO MANAGER! said...

MY LORD! Could you be more arrogant???!!!

Using starving famine victims to justify Tesco' abysmal labelling policies is a new low even for you TESCO MANAGER!

TM is ridiculous, ridiculous!!!

Anonymous said...

So the above poster would rather people starve and concentrate on food labels just to get at Tescos.

Isn't that arrogant?

TM said...

Unless you have a problem buying beef from any of the 3 regions named on the packet, what exactly is the issue? As a consumer myself, I'm not particulary bothered where the product is from. Could someone explain what the fuss is? I accept some people might have a preference of certain countries' produce etc, but the labeling isn't misleading, it doesn't say anything that isn't true.

Anonymous said...

People shouldnt be using the poor buggers who are starving to justify tesco labelling. Tesco are more than capable of messing up there own labels.

Anonymous said...

oh dear. what have starving people got to do with this? totally different issue - must be a Tesco manager or naive student's comment! I agree that the customer should have a right to know where their food comes from. Different countries have different standard, from keeping stock to killing them. It is important to know where you food comes from - and the label should narrow it down! I think those who do not care where their food is sourced are irresponsible and in denial about there role in this whole process.

Voice of Reason said...

Hear Hear!

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