The National Beef Association (NBA) has asked Tesco-owned wholesaler Booker to explain why an original source label for imported Uruguayan beef had been over-labelled with one from Booker’s own corporation.
In a letter dated 1st September, interim NBA chief executive Neil Shand said the Booker’s label obliterated the majority of the original information, including the original best before date.
Mr Shand writes: ‘Whilst we acknowledge and agree that labelling laws in the UK under the current EU legislative banner are vague to say the least, we understand that labelling over the original label is against the law.
‘This therefore appears to be a breach of both Trading Standards and Environmental Health law.’
Responding, Booker commercial director Dominic Morrey stressed that the brand takes food safety and security ‘very seriously’ and is a ‘proud supporter’ or the British meat industry.
Refencing the re-labelling of the Uruguayan meat, Mr Morrey said:
‘This is not common practice around the estate and not in line with our required procedure. We believe that this was human error and not deliberate.’
The corporation will now be carrying out spot checks, he added, which Mr Shand commented ‘suggests this is a more widespread concern’.
In his letter, Mr Shand also raised concerns over the freezing and shelf life of the product, writing: ‘Our understanding is that good practice laws on frozen beef suggest that it can be frozen for a period of up to six months, but certainly no more than 12 months.
‘Your best before date of July 2021 from an animal slaughtered in November 2019 covers 20 months – a period way in excess of accepted norms.’
Mr Morrey stated in response that ‘it is standard practice for the frozen food industry to give a two-year shelf life on frozen beef, lamb and pork which is frozen at source’.
On behalf of the NBA, Mr Shand believes this is too long, and has called for a legal 12-month maximum time that beef can be frozen.
He concludes his letter by saying: ‘The NBA accepts that the UK needs to import a certain proportion of its beef – at between 70 and 80 per cent self-sufficiency we don’t produce enough of our own – but we do believe in transparency of labelling to allow the customer to make an informed choice.
‘One of our current campaigns aims to highlight where our beef comes from, and we encourage consumers to ask suppliers – both in retail and in hospitality outlets – where their beef originates from.
‘Accurate and honest labelling is not only the law, it is part of being a responsible retailer, and ensures that your customers can trust your branding.’
In a separate incident reported in July, a Booker’s customer who bought a rump steak in Plymouth, was astonished to read on the label that it was slaughtered in Kiribati, nearly 9,000 miles from the UK in the Pacific Ocean.
After speaking to the store manager and butchery manager, it was confirmed that the meat was in fact from Ireland and had been mislabelled due to human error.