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Farming opinion: Buy local to back British farming post-Horsegate scandal

11:00 29 June 2014

Blythburgh Free Range Pork

Blythburgh Free Range Pork' s Stuart Butler, Jimmy Butler and Alastair Butler

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The aftermath of ‘Horsegate’ has raised many questions about the ethics of the way the food we eat is promoted, writes Blythburgh pig producer Jimmy Butler.

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Blythburgh Free Range Pork' s 
Jimmy Butler and Free Range growers.Blythburgh Free Range Pork' s Jimmy Butler and Free Range growers.

We all know that to include horsemeat in a dish that is advertised as beef is illegal but, to date, I haven’t heard of many prosecutions. The scandal was due to continuous low-price hounding, mostly by the supermarkets, to produce and supply produce much cheaper to them. Most of this was ingredients in processed food and meat products, where it is easier to disguise illegal substitutes into the type and quality of the meat being used.

We are now experiencing a price war by the large multiple retailers, all trying to persuade us to buy from their stores. At first glance this may seem advantageous to the customer, as long as the reduced products are sourced from legal and audited processors and are not forcing corner-cutting, as in the Horsegate affair.

A real positive from the Horsegate affair is that shoppers now questions the authenticity of the products they are buying and, in the case of meat, are now shopping at the higher end of the retailers and butchers, both of whom can give complete traceability of the product. They can provide the country and farm of origin and do not hide behind a Product of the EU label.

Butchers can name the farm and the farmer and the better supermarkets have a dedicated line of producers purely for themselves. This British-sourced meat can be trusted by the consumer as being British and reliably sourced from high welfare units, due to the Red Tractor and Freedom food labels. Long may these accreditations support British farming, whether it is pork, beef, lamb, poultry, potatoes, cucumbers, apples and much more.

Having said that beware of the ‘play on words’. In my industry, which is free-range pig keeping, we encounter businesses offering outdoor bred and outdoor-reared pork as free range pork. Sometimes this is an honest mistake, sometimes it isn’t. Any butcher or chef claiming to sell free range pork should be able to tell you the name of the farm and farmer, so never be afraid to ask where the pork is from.

Earlier this month my wife, Pauline, and I were privileged to be asked to judge the ‘Best Retail Food and Drink Supplier’ using local produce in Norfolk. It was a fascinating, uplifting experience. The people we visited ranged from a fourth generation fish merchant, to a wonderfully laid out delicatessen, to a family run butcher’s shop, to a community run village shop which had been trading for 20 years and included a post office, to an enthusiastic young baker/entrepreneur who, if energy and enthusiasm counts, will rule the world in 20 years.

We wished we could have put them all first, as the hard work, enthusiasm for local produce as well as being really lovely people, made their businesses unique and a pleasure to visit and shop in. The personal service they all provided, employment and their interest in high quality local produce proves that there are still businesses out there that can compete against the major superstores and make local shopping a real pleasure. Use or lose these people: they need our support.

By the time I write this column next year I expect England will have won the football world cup, the rugby world cup, Scotland will still be part of the UK, the EU will be a trading partner only, and not trying to take over Westminster, and all my pigs will be flying!

n NFU and National Pig Association member Jimmy Butler runs Blythburgh Pigs near Southwold, Suffolk.

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