Tesco rejects new approved 'mixed origin' beef label

Tesco is to remove sweets from its checkouts
Tesco is to remove sweets from its checkouts

Darragh McCulloughAideen Sheehan

The IFA has defended its pursuit of a new labelling system to get beef flowing into Northern Ireland again, despite an outright rejection of the proposal by Tesco.

A senior Tesco executive stated that his organisation had no intention to source "mixed-origin" beef, despite the Northern Irish Department of Agriculture giving a new labelling system its official seal of approval on Friday.

A letter from Tesco group's commercial director, Kevin Grace, in reply to a query from Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, said that the retailer was "proud" to sell beef that was either from Northern Ireland or the Republic, but that their research "consistently" showed that customers did not want meat from mixed origins.

"They want products that come from simple supply chains that are easy for them to understand, and are clearly labelled. We know that mixed origin labelling can be confusing for our customers and in line with our ongoing work to provide our customers with simpler on-pack messaging and simple supply chains, we do not have plans to source mixed origin beef," he wrote.

"I understand this may not be the response you were hoping for but can assure you we will continue to work with beef producers from Northern Ireland and the Repulic of Ireland as part of our sustainable beef supply," he said.

Ms McGuinness said Tesco's response was "emphatic and regrettable".

She also challenged Tesco to reveal details of its research into consumer preference.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association asked why Italian consumers had no problem understanding the mixed-origin labels on beef from cattle raised in Ireland and finished in Italy.

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"Is Tesco saying that the British consumer does not have the same understanding of labels as the Italian consumer?" asked ICSA general secretary, Eddie Punch.

Mr Punch added that the refusal of British supermarkets to take this mixed-origin beef was an artificial barrier to trade under EU rules.

However, the IFA's livestock chairman Henry Burns maintained that the approval of a new label by the authorities in the North was a significant breakthrough.


"A month ago there was no solutions on the table. Now we have something that provides an opportunity to make this work," he said.

Processors such as Foyle Meats, that have traditionally relied on Southern-born cattle, are expected to push a labelling concept that is designed to offer consumers a simple message that the meat is Irish, while at the same time complying with EU regulations by specifying that the animals were born in the Republic of Ireland, but reared and slaughtered in the UK.

Mr Burns said that the numbers of cattle heading North in recent weeks had increased in anticipation of a solution and a shortage of numbers.

The strength of Sterling and factory prices in the North are two other factors providing a significant incentive for Northern buyers to take a chance on Southern stock.

Since the horsemeat crisis last year, British retailers have tightened up their supply chains to make them shorter and more transparent.

As a result 'nomad' cattle that have been reared in the South for finishing and slaughter in Northern Ireland plants are now being penalised by 
up to £150/hd in processing plants.

Some 40,000 calves, weanlings and store cattle were exported to Northern Ireland in 2010, but this fell to 16,000 last year when the new specifications were introduced, and is down to just 6,265 animals this year.

Beef prices to farmers are down 17pc this year, although retail price prices are back by just 0.6pc.

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