Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Thursday, 1 May 2008 17:03 UK

Foreign beef 'is sold as British'

By Jon Kay
West of England correspondent, BBC News

British beef
Farmers want tighter regulation of beef labelled 'British' in restaurants

A significant amount of beef sold in pubs and restaurants as "local" or "British" actually comes from abroad, a BBC investigation has suggested.

DNA testing at 40 food outlets revealed 20% of samples taken from such labelled beef in south-west England was foreign.

Farmers said the findings proved consumer legislation covering pubs and restaurants needed to be tightened up.

The Food Standards Agency said it was disappointed by the findings and called for labelling laws to be clarified.

During the undercover investigation, the BBC secretly took samples of beef from 40 pubs or restaurants and sent it off for DNA-analysis.

Scientists at Dublin-based DNA specialists Identigen found that eight of the samples had the DNA of exotic cattle that only exist in South America and Africa - humped zebu cattle.

It's pure exploitation of consumer demand for real local food - and until there's a properly audited trail through the hospitality industry, the situation is only going to get worse
Jilly Greed
National Beef Association
Referring to one of the samples, Dr Ciaran Meghen said: "The meat may well have originated from Brazil or Botswana - it's definitely not local."

Farmers fear the findings prove their long-held belief that some parts of the hospitality industry are cashing in on the surge in demand for local produce, which can be sold at a premium.

They claim consumers do not realise when they are being served poor-quality meat from parts of the world with lower standards of animal welfare and hygiene.

They want restaurants to prove where meat has come from in the same way butchers have to do with raw meat.

Legal definition

Jilly Greed, who represents the National Beef Association in south-west England, said: "It's a great big con.

"It's pure exploitation of consumer demand for real local food - and until there's a properly audited trail through the hospitality industry, the situation is only going to get worse."

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Fifth of 'British' beef foreign

Trading standards officers said that, although the BBC's investigation was carried out in south-west England, they believed the situation was not unique to the area and said there needed to be a new legal definition of what "local" really meant.

The government told the BBC it had not been aware that foreign beef was being passed off as British or local in food outlets.

Very few businesses have ever been prosecuted over the issue.

But the Food Standards Agency said it was disappointed with the BBC's findings and that the law did need to be re-examined.

Sarah Appleby, head of the imported food division at the watchdog, said: "The labelling regulations are really complicated, especially for pre-packed and pre-prepared food.

"And I think this is an area where perhaps we could provide some more information to consumers to help them make the choices that they want to."


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