Industry plays down rogue pork

The discovery of a non-British pork product labelled as British on sale in Tesco has been played down as an isolated incident by all those involved.

The Red Tractor-assured pork chops, which were supplied to Tesco by Cranswick, were tested during an initiative carried out by Bpex to showcase its isotope testing technology to BBC journalists.

The Stable Isotope Reference Analysis (SIRA) tests, which links pork to its geographical area of production, revealed that the product was highly unlikely to be British.

The incident is being described as a one-off by all those involved and Bpex said further testing backed up this situation. However, it remains unclear how the product ended up labelled as British.

Mick Sloyan, chief executive of Bpex, told the BBC: “Human error can occur. This is not going to happen on a regular basis. I think we have shown that this technology works and it provides an extra level of reassurance for consumers in the traceability systems we adopt.”

A spokesman for Tesco said: “We are extremely disappointed. 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.”

Cranswick said it had carried out extensive investigations into the incident, which had confirmed the robustness of its systems, and said that if the test results were accurate, it was likely to be an one-off error rather than any systematic failure.
A spokesman said: “As one of the UK’s leading pork processors we are committed to investing in and promoting the British pork industry. 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 are taking steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

Meanwhile, Red Tractor has announced it will be adding the SIRA testing to part of its auditing. David Clarke, chief executive of Red Tractor, said: “This isotope test has been developed collaboratively by the industry to help to validate information on food labels and to provide further reassurance. The introduction of this additional level of testing can only add integrity and credibility to the industry’s systems and to the Red Tractor logo.”

Commenting on the rogue chop, he added: “Industry bodies were proactive in inviting BBC Radio to observe an open test of the new technology. Although many previous tests have proven that labels were correct, one sample gave an anomalous result. After thorough follow-up and scrutiny of the systems in this particular supply-chain we are now satisfied that this was an isolated case; further samples from the same source have proved satisfactory. We are also sure that it was caused by human error; this was not a case of deliberate mislabelling or fraud.

“The most important thing for consumers to know today is that industry organisations, retailers and the Red Tractor scheme are working together to develop new tests and robust systems to provide maximum integrity. Of course we expect some tests, hopefully very few, to show unexpected results or there would be no point in doing them. But the use of all the technologies available can only make the integrity of our systems stronger.”