Red Tractor Week got off to an unexpected start today (September 16) when a new scientifically based system developed to enhance the integrity, provenance and traceability of Red Tractor pork found that a randomly selected pack of Tesco pork chops marked as British were more likely to have come from the Netherlands.
The pork chops were bought and tested by BPEX in conjunction with the Farming Today and You & Yours programmes on BBC Radio 4. The aim was to show that the new technology, which measures harmless radioactive isotopes to help pinpoint the source of meat products, could be used to reassure consumers about the provenance of they food they buy.
The meat was bought in Salford by a reporter working for the programmes before being tested in a lab in Germany.
BPEX agreed to carry out the test for the BBC to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new measures, which are intended to reassure consumers that pork sold under the Red Tractor logo is from Britain, but the results suggested there was less than a 1% chance the two pork chops actually came from Britain, and may have been Dutch.
Tesco said it was extremely disappointed by the discovery, while Cranswick Country Foods, which supplied the pork to Tesco, said it had reviewed its systems and had told its customers they could be confident its products were correctly labelled. The company’s records showed the chops had been sourced from FA Gill Ltd at Wolverhampton, but Gill’s told the BBC it categorically denied the pork came from its supply as it doesn’t deal with Dutch meat.
Responding to the test result on Farming Today, BPEX chief executive Mick Sloyan said the evidence in this particular instance pointed to the fact that this was just an isolated case.
“This is not going to happen on a regular basis,” he added. “I think we’ve shown that this technology works and it provides an extra level of reassurance for consumers in the traceability systems that we adopt.”
The new system is known as Stable Isotope Reference Analysis, or SIRA for short, and the method links pork to its geographical area of production. It has proved to be so robust in trials that it has now been incorporated into the quality assurance schemes operated by the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA). The BMPA assurance schemes are used as part of the Red Tractor standards for pork and pork products.
The SIRA system is founded on a database of four stable isotope ratios extracted from pork samples from known locations throughout the UK. It works by analysing retail samples of pork that can then be compared with the BPEX SIRA database to determine whether they originate from the UK.
The probability of each sample matching the database and thus originating in the UK is calculated to provide a probability score on provenance. Any pork labelled as British that has a low probability of matching the database is then subjected to a detailed traceability audit.
By overlaying an innovative scientific-based system such as SIRA on to the already reliable audit trail used by the BMPA, producers, processors and retailers alike can have greater confidence in the integrity of the pig meat supply chain while UK consumers benefit from an enhanced traceability system.
It’s intended that 30 randomly selected products will be tested and that such tests will take place four times each year. SIRA testing will be applied in the retail pork sector initially, before being extended to include bacon and ham products and subsequently rolled out into the foodservice sector.