The National Beef Association (NBA) has issued a fresh plea for transparency in the foodservice sector after wholesaler Booker was caught re-labelling Uruguayan beef.
Interim NBA chief executive Neil Shand wrote to Booker to complain about the issue, pointing out the over-labelling had covered the majority of the original information, including the best before date, with only the animal slaughter date visible to potential customers.
In the letter, he wrote: “While we acknowledge and agree labelling laws in the UK under the current EU legislative banner are vague to say the least, we understand labelling over the original label is against the law.
“This therefore appears to be a breach of both trading standards and environmental health law.”
Booker, which was bought for £3.7bn by Tesco in 2017, said re-labelling was ‘not common practice or in line with our required procedure’, and blamed ‘human error’ for the mix up.
The wholesaler also promised to carry out spot checks in future, which Mr Shand said was ‘more or less confirmation’ that over-labelling is taking place more frequently.
In a picture of the beef in question, the animal slaughter date in 2019 is visible on the original label, with the new label providing a best before date of July 2021.
“What we want as an industry is transparency, so people know the best before date of what they are buying,” Mr Shand told Farmers Guardian.
“In many cases, the consumer is not aware that the beef or steak they are eating could have been slaughtered in 2019 and eaten in August 2021.
“It is those bad experiences people get eating in some pubs and restaurants which turns them away from beef.”
In its response to the NBA’s letter, Booker said it is ‘standard practice’ for the frozen food industry to give a two-year shelf life on frozen beef, lamb and pork.
But Mr Shand claimed this was too long.
“We are calling for a legal maximum time that beef can be frozen,” he said.
“There are guidelines, good practice and different laws in different countries. Some say two years, some say three. We want a 12-month maximum.”