‘Origin UK’ beef should be top of the menu

The Hardiesmill pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd.
The Hardiesmill pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd.

Busy investigators, angry retailers and nationwide public concern led by shocked consumers has routed any immediate threat of beef, or beef products, on offer in supermarkets being re-contaminated with imported horsemeat or any other bizarre cross-species substitution.

But, according to the National Beef Association (NBA), no-one can afford to lower their guard.

“The biggest, best, and most longstanding consumer safeguard, is to only buy beef from cattle that were born, reared and processed in the UK and whose beef was packed by a company operating within UK borders,” explains the NBA’s national director, Chris Mallon.

“Only beef that is 100 per cent British can be sold in a pack with an origin statement that simply states ‘Origin UK’ in bold letters. This reassurance is usually displayed on the underside of the pack.”

It is a principal that some beef farmers close to home already employ. “We’re ‘Scotch Beef’,” says Robin Tuke of Hardiesmill Place, Gordon - a privately run farm with an impressive Aberdeen Angus herd.

The Scotch Beef standard includes a PGI Promise (Protected Geographical Indication). “It applies to the entire supply chain, so the cattle are born, primed, killed and butchered in Scotland,” Robin explains. “Every part of the supply chain up to butchery, including hauliers and feed suppliers, happens in Scotland, so people can have total confidence.”

Robin was shocked by the horsemeat scandal, but he thinks the revelation came at a good time for British farmers. “It’s driven the market up substantially,” he says.

“It has helped farmers because of the supermarkets, Tesco in particular, coming out and saying ‘we want to buy British Beef’. Most farmers have colossal feed costs at the moment because of the bad weather, so this has come as very welcome news.”

But he warns: “The down side for the consumer is that we’re going to see further inflation coming through.

“It’s reflecting the phenomenal level of increased costs that farmers have seen in the last 11 years - in that time red diesel, for example, has gone up from 18p to 74p. Food at a consumer level has only risen a fraction, so there’s someone in the middle losing.”

A survey by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) revealed a significant percentage of butchers’ shops experienced increased footfall following the media coverage of the horse meat issue.

The survey of around 300 members of the Scotch Butchers Club also revealed that 95 per cent of butchers believed customers’ trust in the Scotch Beef brand had increased in the wake of the horsemeat issue. But Robin believes Borderers were already fairly loyal to local butchers. “From what I understand the butchers that are really benefitting are in the cities,” he says. “Not many people here have noticed a change on the same scale because there is such a degree of trust between the butchers and the consumers that many people use the butchers above the supermarkets anyway.”

Although he adds that the farmers’ market, held at Kelso on the fourth Saturday of each month, had been particularly well attended recently.

Following the revelations of some supermarket ‘beef’ products being contaminated with horse meat, the National Farmers Union launched a campaign championing British produce, with adverts declaring ‘Great British farmers produce Great British food’. “Personally I think there is a place for the whole supply chain, but we’re certainly lucky where we are,” Robin says.