Organic scam is uncovered
Published:  19 May, 2006

Some independent butchers are allegedly selling conventional meat as organic produce.

A television documentary secretly filmed butchers and farmers flouting the rules that are designed to ensure consumers can trust their meat has met organic standards for breeding and rearing livestock.

The Soil Association (SA), one of the 10 boards that can certify food as organic in Britain, said in many cases butchers were charging premium prices for the product although they were not licensed to sell organic meat and the meat they were selling had no certification.

The SA said the problem mainly stemmed from ignorance of the law, rather than deliberate attempts to deceive and defraud the public. A spokesman said it would be writing to butchers to remind them they must be licensed before selling organic products.

It also wants trading standards officials to chase businesses which ignore the law. The term organic is covered by EU law and anybody who uses it to produce or market a product needs a licence, otherwise they can face fines of up to £5,000.

Keith Hicks, chairman of the South West Area Council of Meat Traders, told the Journal that passing off normal meat as organic was "an appalling, unforgiving breach of trust. Those who mislead the public should be named and shamed and chucked out of the National Federation of Independent Meat Traders." He added that there should be stringent controls in place to ensure that organic meat is not mixed with normal produce.

Hicks advice to consumers seeking to buy organic produce was to go to butchers who only sell organic meat.

A spokesman for Guild of Q Butchers said as part of the Guild of Q standards, members had to demonstrate that their meat was purchased from reputable suppliers with the required written detailed specification. "Any of our members selling organic meat would need to adhere to that Guild requirement. Our members have close associations with their suppliers and Guild of Q Butchers are diligent about what they sell."

Meanwhile, the SA is countering criticisms levelled at its certification systems for being expensive and almost impossible to administer by drawing up a proposal to cut the cost. It is writing to the Association of National Butchers, announcing it is to cut certification costs from £400 to £250, while at the same time streamlining the inspection process.

"We are well aware that the certification process can be expensive for local artisan butchers, which are not part of a chain or selling directly to supermarkets," said a spokesman for the association.