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Thursday, 28 May 2015

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MP backs local butchers as horsemeat scandal escalates

THE scandal surrounding the discovery of horsemeat in burgers and frozen meals has prompted Hexham’s MP to speak out in support of local butchers.

Guy Opperman has said that the only way to avoid eating horsemeat is to buy fresh meat direct from a respected local butcher.

Last month, Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.

By last week, seven French supermarket chains had withdrawn frozen beef meals made by Findus and Comigel.

Mr Opperman said the presence of processed horse flesh in everything from burgers to lasagne in supermarkets was a serious one.

He said: “Cutting back on price, destroying traditional supply chains and not buying locally will always put pressure on the sanctity of the food chain from animal to plate.

“That is why you should always support local butchers and local markets.

“In Hexham, Corbridge or Ponteland, the butchers know every farmer they have bought off, the animal they have killed and the safety and quality of the meat they are selling.

“I have total confidence in our local butchers, and my hope is that they will do better because of this scandal.”

Mr Opperman added that Tynedale farmers he spoke to had long been sceptical of very cheap processed meat coming from the Continent.

He said: “It turns out they were right to be concerned. The simplest way to know you are eating good quality, safe beef is to look for the Red Tractor label and buy British.

“Whilst there is no evidence at the moment that public health is at risk, I would not blame any of my constituents for not wanting to buy or eat imported processed beef.

“I urge people to buy fresh British meat, preferably local and from a trusted source.”

EBLEX, which represents the English beef and sheep industry has confirmed that quality and traceability are now key concerns for consumers, with shoppers actively looking for the Red Tractor logo – which means a product can be traced back to a British farm – or EBLEX’s own Quality Standard Mark.

This quality mark relies on a strict selection process to ensure meat is produced to even higher standards than those required by law, with a supply chain that is inspected at every stage from farm to meat counter.

Meanwhile, David Clarke of Red Tractor Assurance has confirmed that no Red Tractor products have been implicated in the scandal.

And he added: “We are writing to Red Tractor licensees to remind them of their responsibilities and the rules which underpin the Red Tractor logo.

“We have made it clear that the only beef used in Red Tractor labelled products must be from farms certified in the Red Tractor scheme.

“We are also warning them to take every care to ensure that the only animal protein contained in a meat product should be that which is listed on the label.”

“Consumers have embraced the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme in recent weeks. They are reassured that the independent inspections delivered by Red Tractor – more than 60,000 inspections each year on UK farms and in UK factories – gives an assurance of proper standards throughout the supply chain.”

The Hexham-based National Beef Association wants to go one step further, however, and is calling for even more precise labelling of products, recommending all UK beef should be labelled with the words “United Kingdom origin” printed on its packaging.

But managing director at Hexham Auction Mart, Robert Addison believes traceability is already guaranteed – if you shop locally.

He said: “The horsemeat fiasco provides a great opportunity for the local community to show support for their local butcher.

“The majority of meat, where possible, is sourced from the locality and traceability is guaranteed – quite often the farm of origin is displayed within the premises.

“A traditionally reared, fed and matured animal will ensure a tasty and value for money meal for the whole family.”