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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Watchdog – Where Does Your British Food Come From?

Earlier this year British food manufacturers, the big supermarkets and the government signed up to a new labelling system that's supposed to make it easier to see where your food has come from.

However, not everyone has signed up to the code – it's only voluntary and it only applies to pork. This means it can still be very difficult for consumers to work out where the food they buy was grown or reared.

Now, an investigation by BBC One's Watchdog programme has found that even some of our proudest British dishes, sold in UK supermarkets, are confused about their national identity.

For example, Sainsbury's sell a Lancashire Hotpot ready meal. They label it as being part of their "British Classics" range, yet the lamb used to make it comes from New Zealand.

Marks & Spencer sell their own take on a British classic ready meal – Liver and Bacon. It states that the pork used in the dish is from the UK and the packaging even boasts a Union flag – but the liver comes from the other side of the world, from New Zealand lamb.

There is also Wall's "Cumberland Sausages", whose origin you might think is fairly specific but, in fact, the small print says that the meat could come from anywhere in the EU.

The manufacturers and supermarkets are doing nothing wrong – they are all legal, they all comply with the rules and they are all legitimate.

So how easy is it to pass off foreign meals as British, despite the new code? In tonight's Watchdog, Chris Hollins finds out whether he can create his own brand of ready meals containing no British ingredients whatsoever and still legally brand them as "British".

Chris sourced chicken from Poland, potatoes from Egypt, peas from Kenya, carrots from Belgium and asparagus from Peru.

Amazingly, by putting the foreign chicken and vegetables into a single dish and cooking it, Chris has made what's known as the "last substantive change". The EU rules say that because he did this in London he can say that it was produced there and that it is British in origin.

Chris then visited a marketing expert for advice on how to package the dish to give the impression it was as British as possible.

They used a string of buzz-words to help seduce the patriotic consumer: "traditional", "country of origin UK", "a British classic", "produced in the UK", "a taste of home" and "ye olde farm favourites".

They also used colours found in the Union Flag – though not the flag itself as that is not allowed under the current guidelines unless the true origin of the primary ingredient is specified. The flag can be used if a separate declaration makes it clear that the primary meat is not from the UK.

Chris then tested the meal out on the great British public, many of whom were shocked that a dish labelled as such could contain no UK ingredients whatsoever.

When Watchdog contacted Marks & Spencer about their Liver and Bacon ready meal, they told the programme they'd got the labelling wrong:

"Unfortunately, we have made a genuine mistake on the packaging of this product – it does not meet our packaging policy. We check all of our packaging regularly but, unfortunately, this one has been missed.

"We will remove the flag immediately – we thank Watchdog for pointing this out and apologise to our customers for any confusion we may have caused them."

Walls said that their consumer focus groups do not currently "list origin of meat as a matter of priority."

They said: "Our policy is to procure as much of our pigmeat requirement as possible within the UK supply base. However, we must recognise that the UK is less than 50 per cent self-sufficient in total pigmeat."

They also told Watchdog: "From mid-year, we plan to include the following statement on our Wall's packaging: 'Our sausages are made in the UK with great tasting meat from Great Britain and the EU.'"

Sainsbury's said: "In this case, the 'Great British Classics' name and use of the Union Jack is to highlight the fact that both Shepherd's Pie and Lancashire Hot Pot are both uniquely British dishes.

"It is clearly stated on both the front and the back of the packaging that the lamb is from New Zealand and it is important to remember that we only use New Zealand lamb when lamb is out of season in the UK."

The results will be shown on Watchdog on 6 May at 8pm on BBC One.

TD

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