Tesco has said it is “extremely disappointed” over the discovery that a pork loin product it labelled as British sourced may have originated from the Netherlands.
A report by the BBC revealed an isotope test was carried out on the pork, which was purchased by a reporter working for Radio 4’s You & Yours and Farming Today programmes.
The meat is understood to have been tested in a lab in Germany by the British Pig Executive (BPEX) in order to demonstrate “the effectiveness of new measures” intended to reassure consumers that pork sold under the Red Tractor logo is from Britain.
The Red Tractor logo sets criteria for producers and retailers to meet on food safety, environmental protection, animal welfare and British origin.
The results, however, suggested there was less than a 1% chance the two pork chops actually came from the UK, and instead may have originated from the Netherlands.
In a statement, BPEX said the pork tested was “highly unlikely” to be of British origin.
“There is always the possibility that an unscrupulous supplier may import cheaper pork and label it as British. This would be both harmful to consumer confidence and to British pig farmers. This is exactly the reason why BPEX invested in the development of the SIRA technology in the first place.”
Tesco sources its pork from listed UK meat group Cranswick, which said it was both “surprised and disappointed” at the test result. It said it has since carried out “in-depth traceability and mass balance reviews”.
“These tests have confirmed the robustness of Cranswick’s systems. Cranswick believes that this is an isolated not a systemic issue … and has reassured its clients that they can be confident that the origin of the products they get from Cranswick are correctly labelled,” a spokesperson said.
“Since this result on one of our products, we have followed BPEX guidelines and conducted a full traceability audit. Further tests on other pork products have all come back to show the pork is correctly labelled. As a result of our investigations we believe this is an isolated error and we have taken steps to ensure this does not happen again.”
Cranswick told just-food it bought the meat from another supplier, FA Gill Ltd, a family-owned meat company in Wolverhampton.
However, in a statement, FA Gill said it has a 20-year “unblemished record” of supplying Farm Assured British pork to Cranswick. The company said it correctly labels the products it slaughters and sells and has the documentation to prove it.
FA Gill said it denies the pack of pork in question came from its supply. “We do not deal Dutch meat,” it said. The group noted it is “only one of a number” of suppliers of pork to Cranswick that is packed to Tesco.
David Clark, CEO of Red Tractor, said he was “satisfied” that this was “an isolated case”.
“Further samples from the same source have proved satisfactory. We are also sure it was caused by human error; this was not a case of deliberate mislabelling or fraud.”
A Tesco spokesperson said it was “extremely disappointed” by the discovery and had told its supplier that “this mistake is unacceptable”.
“When we specify that we want British pork, we expect to be supplied with British pork. We have spoken with our supplier to make clear that this mistake is unacceptable. Further testing on more products has confirmed the country of origin is correct in all cases. We’ve recently trialled this new isotope testing and we are talking to BPEX about how we can develop this alongside our existing tests, to bring even more rigour to our food testing programme.”
The discovery serves to highlight the importance for retailers over the sourcing of its meat products following the horsemeat contamination scandal, which broke earlier this year. The saga resulted in increased pressure on food retailers to shorten supply chains and source closer to home.
Tesco was one of the first retailers to be highlighted by food safety officials as having sold burgers containing horsemeat.
In February, Tesco made a pledge to buy 100% British chicken as part of its fightback and sell more meat from “closer to home”.
Sainsbury’s, which had no horsemeat in any of its products, nonetheless made a similar move in July when it said it would move all its fresh pork to being 100% British.
Nick Martin, SVP for northern Europe of Trace One, said the fact Tesco laid the blame over the pork product with its supplier shows it is “more crucial than ever” that retailers and suppliers “communicate transparently” and that “accountability is introduced at every stage of the process”.
“There are innumerable opportunities for mistakes to occur across the supply-chain and attention is more heightened than ever following the horsemeat crisis. Retailers and suppliers need to ensure that they are safeguarding their reputation and ensure that both consumer confidence in their products and also their working relationships with each other are protected,” Martin said.