Supermarkets have failed to refute MLC allegations that they are creating brands to deliberately circumvent promises not to sell imported low-welfare pork.
The MLC claimed supermarkets are reneging on their pledge, following a campaign by British pig farmers and consumers, that own-label pork and bacon would only be sold if it had been raised to the same welfare standards as the UK. In its evidence to the Competition Commission, the MLC stated that there had been a rapid growth in 'tertiary brands', which do not carry the retailer's brand name, and that retailers were often selling imported products, derived from farming systems that would be illegal in the UK.
"In many cases, retailers pro-actively specified that these products be packaged under a tertiary brand label to avoid compromising their own UK welfare-equivalent meat," added the statement.
Sainsbury's, Somerfield and Morrisons are all believed to stock such tertiary brands, the MLC claimed. A spokesman for Somerfield said that, while the supermarket was committed to supporting the British pork industry, the reality was that the UK was not self-sufficient in this sector and the chain had to supplement the shortfall with European pork to meet consumer demand. It added: "We now sell over 45% British pork. All imported meat is clearly identified with the country of origin."
A Sainsbury's spokesperson said: "We are now working towards sourcing pork that meets the UK welfare standards. We hope to have new suppliers in place soon."
The MLC also called for further clarity on country of origin and for this to be placed on the front of packs, as it said supermarkets used misleading labelling on packaging to trick people into thinking they were buying British pork when they were not.
BPEX questioned more than 500 people at the BBC Good Food Show, using four different packs of pork, and asked them to identify the country of origin. The survey showed that countryside images and the use of spurious farm names often misled consumers into believing a product was British when it was not.
One particular product, available in a major retailer, was believed to be British by 53% of those questioned, as it had a farm name on the pack and a typical meat-and-two-veg picture on the front. And almost half the people questioned could not identify Dutch pork by the small 'NL' printed on the front of the label.
MLC consumer affairs director Richard Lowe said: "People are easily misled by the on-pack labels. BPEX has been campaigning for clear, transparent and honest labelling for a long time, so consumers can make an informed choice. The whole industry has to work together to clear this up."
John Howard, marketing director of the Danish Bacon & Meat Council, said: "We are totally in support of the principle of transparent and unambiguous labelling and we have encouraged retailers to use the Danish 'sizzle' as a mark of quality on Danish pig meat items."