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Supermarket & suppliers horsing around with burgers?

Finally supermarkets should be no longer able to claim they can follow the meat products they sell from the fork to the farm. As a master butcher i have been frustrated by the blatant abuse of systems by many big producers and large supermarket chains. Due to pressure and lobbying from such large businesses, successive governments have introduced bureaucracy that has stifled small business such as mine and allowed big business to show a paper trail that can easily be manipulated by greedy profiteers who care nothing about the consumer only the bottom line.

When high quality butchers were successful at selling Scottish beef supermarkets and their suppliers drove the live animals across the border for slaughter so that it could be called and sold as scottish beef. This devalued the offer to the consumer and heaped funds in the profits of the large huge companies.

When butchers started to sell organic meats from small holding farms the supermarkets and their suppliers lobbied for legislation and systems of which the soil association emerged and then the large businesses set about lobbying the soil association to change their rules to suit their suppliers and make it easier to grow organic foods. Ie they lobbied for fields to be left fallow for 1 year instead of 3 years for the growth of organic product making them massive profits whilst small businesses like mine lose out due to the hijacking of our offer.

The systems have allowed big business to cash in on organic & free range meats, rare breed, scottish beef, welsh lamb and home grown and so called UK produced products. We have seen this before when the Bernard Mathews company brought in the strain of HN51 by cooking condemned meat imported from Hungary so it could be sold to the British public.

What puzzles me about this case is that it took the company 2-3 days to call the authorities. Why? Did the Bernard Mathews factory spend 2 days ‘cleaning up’ before they reported it to DEFRA? They informed the press that only a few birds had died. The truth is that 1200 – 1400 birds were dying a day in each of the infected sheds! that is a staggering 3000 – 5000 birds! That is an alarming figure so they must have known immediately what they was dealing with and how it was caused, so did they spent two days cleaning it up before they made the call?

The authorities only found out the source of the HN51 because of a very diligent Defra officer who seen a label stuck to the bottom of a large paladin bin and fished it out! The managers kept the fact that they had imported meats from Hungary from Defra. If it was not for the label being found then the country would have been left mystified as to how the very dangerous disease got into the country.

Next ‘the big business machine’ went into overdrive once they were ‘found out’ and rolled out the local MP’s to lobby with scare tactics on behalf of the company saying that ‘any fine or other action would cost some of the 4000 jobs’. So what did the government at the time do? They gave them a grant! It just adds insult to injury, the managers responsible should have been arrested and investigated in my view.

If it was a very small supplier that caused the outbreak you can guarantee a large fine or a custodial sentence would have followed. The point i am making in this example is that paperwork can always be manipulated and will always be manipulated by big business for a profit. In the case of the horse burgers they had a system to follow but ignored it for profit the burgers stated ‘100% beef’ and ‘made in the UK’ and led the consumer to believe it is made from beef of UK meats.

I have worked in big catering factories and i can tell you they will buy the cheapest meat on the market that week or month and do not care about where it comes from; whether the source is Brazil with foot and mouth or in the case of the horse burger scandal Poland, it will happen again and again I can assure you

The way to stop all of these abuses of the government systems is to simplify the whole way we label our food and how we grade it. Authorities keep putting layer upon layer of legislation and labelling directives making it impossible for the consumer to follow.

For instance, butchers who are in an organisation such as the ‘Q guild’ (Quality guild of butchers) should be given a special status that identifies them as businesses that can guarantee from the fork to the farm and the welfare and quality of the product so clearly defining our product from that of the supermarket.

High quality butcher like ours are master trades-man  and have a strong relationship with their farmers who are small holders and of the same mind. They have no interest to import foreign meats as they are in a totally different market. The target market of such farmers are high quality butchers.

When i select the sides of beef for my store i go for the 4R rare-breed or organic grade which defines the quality, welfare and the fat content; the same can be said for the other carcasses, of other species, i select using the relevant grading. Can the supermarket butcher claim to have such a relationship with his farmer?  Can the supermarket butcher even cut up a side of beef? The answer is clearly ‘no’ nor are they ‘master butchers’ even though some of them claim to be.

By giving the High street quality butcher, baker or other such specialist food shops a ‘specialist status’ that clearly defines them from the supermarkets; so long as they are a member of a trades organisation that audits them (we are independently audited by 3 organisations) will identify us clearly from the supermarkets in terms of quality in the mind of the consumer. Adding a change of how supermarkets label food by giving the consumer a clearer decision making system to follow.

Also this will stop supermarkets and large suppliers from using their pressure to define what is organic & free range or forcing rule changes to suite their profits which will intern help consumers to buy a product they can trust with confidence, finally benefit and protect the high street Independent high street trader.


  • January 30th, 2013