Catering Scotland

Beef up your menu with origin labelling

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Beef up your menu with origin labelling

October 21
20:07 2013
Scotland is famous for the quality of its beef, and consumers will often actively seek out Scotch Beef in the knowledge that it will deliver in terms of quality and taste.
However, despite specific consumer demand for Scotch beef, it is all too often the case that caterers fail to highlight Scotch Beef on their menus, instead using simplistic descriptions like ‘Sirloin Steak’ or ‘Grilled Beef Burger,’ which offer no indication of origin.
The Meat & Livestock Commission’s Tony Goodger urges chefs, restaurateurs and caterers to press for change, and make origin-labelling mandatory in all areas of foodservice…

European beef-labelling regulations, notably (EC) No. 1760/2000, require that retail pre-packed beef states the country of origin, rearing, slaughter and processing on the pack label. Where the beef is sold ‘loose,’ such as in high street butchers, its origin should be declared on the premises.
But while these regulations exist for the retail sale of beef, there is no requirement for caterers or chefs to provide their customers with similar details.

However, the regulation does require that beef sold into catering outlets is labelled on the wholesale packaging in the same manner as pre-packed beef, showing the chef its country of origin.
Should this information be passed on to the customer, and does the customer really want to see it?

EU member states have been permitted to make their own decisions on whether to extend beef-labelling regulations to the catering sector, and currently they vary in their approach; France, for example, has introduced an extension to the beef-labelling regulations for foodservice outlets, which now means that the origin of the beef being served each day is stated either on the menu or at the points of entry or purchase. Furthermore, this requirement applies to all catering establishments, from the independently owned bistro to the branded steakhouse chains such as Buffalo Grill. Indeed, Buffalo Grill are as happy to state that today’s beef is from Brazil as they are to say today’s beef is from France, thus allowing the customer to make an informed decision prior to purchase.

What next for Scotch Beef?

The Scottish parliament has indicated that it wishes to follow other EU member states by extending beef-labelling to foodservice outlets. A consultation with industry and the public was undertaken earlier this year, the results of which appeared to show an almost even split between those in favour and those against such an extension in beef-labelling.

What was surprising, however, in these days of food tourism, was VisitScotland’s reluctance to accept the need for change. In their words; ‘We do not believe that there is sufficient merit to justify it’. This contrasted sharply with the view of Which? (formerly The Consumers’ Association), who said: ‘This information should be provided to ensure that consumers are informed and that they are not misled’.
This perspective seems to be much more in accordance with the original EU beef-labelling aim of strengthening ‘the confidence of consumers in beef and to avoid misleading them.’

The Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) must now make a decision: Do they support those opposed to extending beef-labelling regulations and thus rely purely on market forces to provide information for consumers; or do they support the consumer’s right to accurate information by extending the regulations, thus potentially benefitting Scotland’s tourist industry and possibly Scotland’s beef farmers?

The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) have long campaigned for labelling of the origin of meat served by caterers, believing this to be in the best interests of consumers and the hospitality industry. However, regardless of SEERAD’s final decision, the MLC believes that the argument for origin labelling is compelling, and we are urging Scotland’s caterers to print the origins of beef and other meats either on menus or at the points of entry or purchase.

The MLC’s own research, carried out every three months for the last 18 quarters, consistently polled a sample of 1,000 adults who had eaten out of home in the preceding two weeks. The research shows that an average 63% of consumers either ‘Strongly agree’ or ‘Tend to agree’ with the statement ‘Meat served in restaurants and other public eating establishments should have its country of origin displayed.’
Furthermore, a separate independent annual survey, running since 2003, has consistently shown 55%+ of consumers wish to know the origin of the meat being sold when eating out.

We believe there is a strong consumer case for labelling the origin of all meat on menus, especially as the full origin details are already available in the catering outlet’s kitchen. There is a real marketing benefit for outlets selling Scotch Beef to inform their customers of this, especially in a tourism-dependent economy such as ours, and when research shows that 73% of tourists want to eat locally produced food.

With more and more meals eaten out of home, the consumer’s demand for information to make informed purchasing decisions will increase, both when purchasing beef for in-home consumption and when eating meat in a restaurant.

For further details of the MLC’s Campaign for Menu Transparency, visit www.meatorigin.co.uk and www.mlcfoodservice.com

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