Westcountry farmers' leaders and MPs are demanding stricter food labelling laws
after a supermarket trumpeted one meal as "British" - only to reveal in small print that it was made from New Zealand lamb. Hilary Datchens, 57, said she felt "tricked" when she discovered that the "British" slow cooked lamb shanks she bought from Tesco at Padstow, North Cornwall, were actually from the other side of the world. "I bought them, took them home and we sat down and ate them," Miss Datchens said. "It wasn't until I was going to throw the packaging away that I noticed it said New Zealand lamb. I try to buy as much local produce as I can and I wouldn't have bought it if I'd known it was from New Zealand. I just feel that they'll try any trick they can." Part of the Tesco "Finest" range, the packaging clearly labels the meal as "British" in capital letters over a picture of a rural landscape. In much smaller type it says they are "tender shanks of marinated New Zealand lamb". The side of the sleeve, as seen when stacked on the shelf, merely states: "Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks" with "British" underneath. St Ives MP Andrew George said: "A lot of shoppers have become heartily cynical about the way in which supermarkets behave. This is just further evidence that supermarkets are happy to dupe customers. If the supermarkets really want to address peoples' genuine concerns about their activities there must be substance behind the claims they make about supporting British agriculture." South West Conservative MEP Neil Parish promised to raise the issue with Tesco, the European Commission and the Government saying it was an issue which had "gone on for far too long. A product should not be described as British when it is really from New Zealand," Mr Parish said. "It seems that there has been some processing of this meal in the UK, but I still think they have gone further than they are able." Ironically, the complaint about Tesco surfaced as the Food Standards Agency started a consultation exercise on new guidance for food businesses on "Country of Origin" labelling - a particular issue with ready meals. It includes advice on "avoiding misleading labelling with regard to products that are of a particular culinary style". Melanie Hall, South West regional director at the NFU, said a change in the law was needed to stop "confusing" shoppers who clearly wanted to "buy British". "I think it is time that legislation was in place to support the home supply base and stop confusing consumers when they are looking for that produce," she said. "We need to see far clearer labelling. The Red Tractor logo gives consumers the assurance that produce is British."
A spokeswoman for Tesco said the "British" description was designed to highlight the "type of cuisine" rather than indicate that "every single ingredient came from the country on the dish". She added: "We would never intend to mislead and the process has already been put in place to change the labelling on this product. People should see that in store in the next couple of weeks." She stressed that Tesco was "committed to clear labelling" and only sourced lamb outside the UK when local meat was not available.