Farmers have no beef with state-of-the-art test
A new project to rebuild confidence in Westcountry meat by creating a "unique" fingerprint capable of tracing animals right back to the farm is under way.
State-of-the-art "isotope testing" began as officials attempt to create a profile for locally-reared meat. The scheme will allow the exact origin of cuts to be pinpointed, further enhancing the reputation of home-grown beef, lamb and pork in the wake of the damaging horse meat crisis.
Devon County Council was last week one of the 29 local authorities ordered by the Food Standards Agency to randomly sample local foods as part of the ongoing investigation into processed meals.
But in an unrelated operation, trading standards officials this week began a new pre-planned operation.
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"In the past there has been no definitive test for the true origin of meat to local level," a spokesman said. "But now we are able to use isotope technology to build several unique reference profiles of animals we know to have been legitimately raised in Devon from farm through to abattoir."
As part of the scheme officials visited the Ashburton abattoir run by Thomas Lang.
Mr Lang, whose company slaughters animals from local farms and supplies to butcher's shops and outlets such as Riverford Organic farm, has backed the plan.
He said officers rang out of the blue and asked if they could sample one of his bullocks, later photographing the animal's head and ear tag.
He said: "They are setting up a database and building up a map which will be accurate enough to take people to court."
Profiles created via the cutting-edge technology should ensure that when a restaurant or butcher's shop says Westcountry beef, lamb or pork is being sold then the steak, chop or ham is indeed from the stated region. It will also allow inspectors to more easily identify wrongdoing and prosecute those suspected of passing off products as local.
Richard Haddock, a farmer of Aberdeen Angus cattle and regular Western Morning News contributor, said the region was "leading the way".
"Everyone I have spoken to welcomes it and is pleased," he added. "I have volunteered to work with them and am happy for them to come and test anything in my business."
The council said "legitimate" local butchers had expressed concern about the low price of "local meat" supplied by some competitors.