East Anglia: Trust in big retailers ‘blown apart’ by horsemeat crisis

Lady Caroline Cranbrook in Suffolk Food Hall, Ipswich. Pictured with butcher Jamie Harris

Lady Caroline Cranbrook in Suffolk Food Hall, Ipswich. Pictured with butcher Jamie Harris

TRUST in “mega-retailers” has been blown apart following the horsemeat scandal, leaving the field to farm shops, a retailer has claimed

Oliver Paul, who set up Suffolk Food Hall at Wherstead, Ipswich, with cousin, Rob, as the local answer to supermarkets, said it was time to remember that food comes from the farm, not the supermarket.

“Despite the advertising campaigns and celebrity chef endorsements, assurances the supermarkets have given us are being exposed as phoney veneers,” he said.

“Please don’t be fooled - supermarkets are highly sophisticated corporations. There are buyers for each food category, whose job is to specifically know about the production costs of food, and negotiate the best procurement contract for their masters.

“For example, everyone in the industry knows the beef price has spiked due to commodity prices and yet in real terms supermarket procurement has forced the price of processed dishes down to help price cutting campaigns.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said many of its members who own butchers shops have reported a dramatic increases in sales following the discovery of horsemeat in some food products. It is urging consumers to shop local and support their independent retailers.

David Ball, an independent meat wholesaler and livestock market managing director, of Earl Stonham Farms, said: “Local butchers and farm shops have worked hard to meet rules and regulations and have struggled for years against the supermarkets.

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“People are now running back to us, small independent suppliers as they know what they’re getting, and where it’s coming from. Demand for a wider range of meats has gone up, for example one of those I supply to has taken double the order of sheep. People are recognising independents again.”

Mr Paul said the pressure on the supply chain has led to “questionable practices” and supermarkets had made quality assurance claims, but failed to ask the right questions, he said.

Farm shops should have no qualms about “kicking the supermarkets whilst they are down”, he argued.

“It is easy to make UK farmers provide evidence of each specific field a potato comes from, for marketing purposes, but inconvenient to ask which stable beef has come from when supermarkets want to make the cheapest food to tempt consumers,” he said.

“Without a genuine cultural change within supermarkets, the relentless pursuit of profit means that questions on quality won’t get asked, even when clear flags are raised such as changing commodity prices. This has returned the title of trust to those who trade for profit, but not at all costs, such as the farmer and the farm shop.”

We have also been confused into thinking that the value of our food is only about price, he argues, rather than a combination of its quality and the price we pay for it. Supermarkets had sought to redefine ‘value’ as the cheapest.

“In reality, buying from a farm shop, market or independent, gives to consumer the ability to interrogate the provenance directly, get advice on and decide for themselves what is the best value, learn about ways to make the food go further and put inspiration and fun back into food shopping.”

Local food campaigner Caroline Cranbrook said: “All our livestock and farming organisations are deeply concerned regarding the current meat scandals and the extraordinary, complex and sometimes illegal international meat trade they have revealed. The UK produces the finest and most rigorously regulated livestock in the world. It is very important that this message gets across.”

nLaws must be changed to improve the traceability of horses amid new research showing an increase in fly-grazing and following the recent horse meat scandal, farmers’ leaders say.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) believes the Horse Passport Regulations (2009) are not working and that further laws should also be amended to give local authorities and police clear powers to act when private land owners have horses dumped on their land.

A survey by the NFU has revealed around 3,000 farmer and grower members have been affected by fly-grazing in recent years, with 38% of survey respondents said they had been targeted more than once and they listed a number of intimidation tactics when they challenged horse owners, including threats of violence and arson.

The survey revealed that fly-grazing was most widespread in the north east, followed by East Anglia, south east and south west.