Buying British Beef


Another supermarket caught up in a scandal. But it says a lot for the reputation Booths has built up that everybody seems to agree they were being cheated by their suppliers. Still it might be interesting to see who else those suppliers were supplying. Now the National Food Crime Unit is investigating just how it happened that Booths were supplied with products labelled as British, when they came from South America and Europe instead.

Obviously this is a crime, but there is an interesting if slippery slope out there. So you can buy food from abroad, ‘process’ it in this country, and it is British.

For the definition is “Having been significantly changed through a treatment or process within the UK”.

Then you have the Tesco fictional farms (other supermarkets doubtless have them) which appear on packaging to make the produce sound more locally sourced.

You might ask why Tesco didn’t just use real farms. But that is a path fraught with risk. After all, the real farm might show the same loyalty to the supermarket as the supermarkets show to farmers, and suddenly Little Wallop cheese is being sold by ASDA, and Tesco has to frantically find a new source. Far safer to have an imaginary Little Wallop which is a brand wholly owned by Tesco.

But what also interested me is how little traction the story had in the media. The media was caught up in a feeding frenzy over Lineker. This time it wasn’t so much his obscenely high salary which was attracting attention, it was the fact that he was a cutting edge proponent of freedom of speech.

I confess to being somewhat amused by the sheer number of my left wing friends who leapt to his support, so much so that I asked if they were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes” and commented that it appears that we’re all Blairites now. I suspect it might be some time before they speak to me again.

But it does speak volumes. We had the storm over no tomatoes, but it’s blown over. Various supermarkets have announced they now have plenty, and everybody has moved on. Our dependence for our daily bread on major retailers who prioritise immediate margin over long term national interest is not regarded as an important issue. Who appears on a late night TV sports programme apparently is.

I know the Romans talked about panem et circenses, bread and circuses, but Emperors, often for reasons of personal survival, took a personal interest in ensuring that the bread supply was guaranteed. We have a population, or at least the chattering classes of the population, who simply assume their bread will be provided and instead spend their time engrossed in the circuses.

I wonder what it will take before food moves up the agenda and becomes a matter of national importance? A 16% annual food price increase hasn’t done it. Temporary shortages haven’t done it. Will it take a reintroduction of rationing before the UK government (of any party) decides that food production in the UK is important?

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.