Supermarket free-rides on the back of producers

UK - Pig producers pay 65p per slaughter pig into an annual promotion fund of 35.5m to promote quality assured British pork and pork products. So they have every right to be angry when Somerfield signpost and package foreign pork as if it were British.
calendar icon 20 October 2003
clock icon 6 minute read
"British, British, British" scream the shelves. But the products on it are made from imported meat. Will the last pig producer in Britain please switch off the lights.

NPA Logo

NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & White-hall, and with pro-cessors, supermarkets & caterers – fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

If the industry doesn't stamp on this shoddy practice once and for all, we might as well scrap the promotion levy altogether.

For what is the point of producers devoting a considerable sum from their shrinking resources to building up consumer demand for British pork, if the likes of Somerfield are going to badge up foreign meat as British?

British meat sells at a premium because producers have devoted considerable time and effort to telling consumers about its quality, welfare and environmental credentials.

This Somerfield pack features the Union Flag and the word "British". The sausages are produced in the UK "using pork from the EU".

Somerfield's food labelling policy states: "Somerfield believes in providing clear, informative labelling. The company endeavours to comply with all legal labelling requirements and aims to make changes to its labelling in advance of legislative requirements."

Stephen Ridge at Somerfield is responsible for ethical trading. What is remotely ethical about this pack, Mr Ridge?

An ongoing survey by Ladies in Pigs shows that a significant number of shoppers attempt to buy British pork products by looking for a Union Flag or trusting what they read on the label. The cynical Somerfield Bangers and Mash packaging is bound, therefore, to confuse, mislead and bewilder.
Our industry should not rest until it has exposed the immorality of wealthy retailers who would free-ride on the back of producers.

Consider what Somerfield are doing to beef producers.

Currently they are selling "Great British Recipes Cottage Pie". The shelves on which the package is stacked say "British" and the package itself shows the Union Flag. But the beef comes from South America and the EU.

When NPA chairman Richard Longthorp tackled a member of Somerfield's staff in their Hessle store, Hull, she tried to hide behind the word "recipes". This is not good enough. A genuine "Great British Recipe" contains genuine British meat. That's how I see it and that is how shoppers will see it.

In any case, Somerfield know full well that busy shoppers see the word "British" and accept it at face value.

Of greatest concern must be the way Somerfield is flagging "Great British Recipes Bangers and Mash" as British. The shelves say "British" and the pack contains a Union Flag. But the pork in the sausages is "from the EU".

We know these products are on display in Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire and would welcome feedback from other areas.

Frances Slade of LIPS is in the process of contacting Trading Standards in Oxfordshire and I have alerted Trading Standards in Lincolnshire.

On the off chance that it will be useful to those making similar complaints elsewhere, here is what I wrote to Trading Standards...
  • Somerfield are currently selling a "Great British Recipes" range. Two of the products are 'Cottage Pie' and 'Bangers and Mash'. Both feature the Union Flag on the front of the pack and the word 'British' is displayed prominently. Notwithstanding the reference to "Recipes", there is a clear intention to indicate to consumers that they are buying food produced in Britain.
  • Both products are manufactured in Britain, but the Cottage Pie is made from South Amercan beef and the sausages in the Bangers and Mash are made from pork from the EU.
  • These products are displayed on shelves that are themselves are prominently signposted "British".
  • As you are aware, although meats that have been substantially processed in this country may legally be described as "Product of Britain" the law also requires that labelling must not mislead consumers over the substance or quality of the food.
  • Specifically, it requires that consumers should not be misled over country of origin by the way products are packaged, the way they are arranged and the setting in which they are displayed.
  • I believe the Somerfield packaging is illegal. It certainly falls very short of the Food Standards Agency guidelines for clear, honest labelling.
  • Surveys have consistently shown that a significant percentage of shoppers prefer to buy British food. Their reasons include safety, freshness and sustainability of the British countryside.
  • The pig industry has an organisation called Ladies in Pigs which promotes British pork at supermarkets. It is currently collecting data from shoppers about the standard of meat labelling and signposting in supermarkets. It is clear from data collected so far that the majority of shoppers wish to exercise their choice to buy British but are frequently unable to, because of misleading labelling.
  • The best way to prevent cynical misleading of shoppers by retailers would be for Trading Standards to take action against the perpetrators.
  • There is no reason why retailers should not sell products made from imported meat, but there is every reason why they should not attempt to gain a sales advantage by passing off the meat as British.
  • Whilst I recognise the other pressures on your time and budget, I urge you to take action on behalf of consumers because this is an important issue.
The industry must decide how to deal with the Somerfields of this world; there is no point bulding and maintaining a British premium, just for them and their ilk to walk off with the spoils. My own preference, if we have the resources, would be direct action every time it happens, with no warnings and no apologies. I suspect it is the only language they understand.

Source: National Pig Association - 17th October 2003
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