VEGA News Item

Veggie Customers Muscle up to Morrisons - 04/04/2007
The supermarket has been fined £18,000 for selling a “meat-free” ravioli product that had been wrongly labelled as “suitable for vegetarians”.
The supermarket has been fined £18,000 for selling a “meat-free” ravioli product that had been wrongly labelled as “suitable for vegetarians”. The major multiple store based in Bradford received fines totalling £18,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £1,981 at Northampton magistrate’s court after pleading guilty to 2 charges of contravening the Food Safety Act 1990. (The Grocer, 24 March 2007; Online Meat Trades Journal 21 March 2007).

A complaint made by a man who bought 2 tins of Morrisons own-brand Meat-free Ravioli in Tomato Sauce – Suitable for Vegetarians from a store in Northampton prompted an investigation led by the trading standards team of Northamptonshire County Council that resulted in the prosecution. A spokesman for the Council reported that the complainant had been a veggy for 23 years and was “unimpressed, disgusted, and disappointed” to find meat in the product.

The ravioli product had been manufactured and packed in Italy. During the investigation “it became clear that Morrisons had received several other consumer complaints of the same nature in the previous 2 months and had failed to investigate them properly”, a spokesman for the County Council said.

A councillor for community safety, Liz Taverner, said that “food labels are there so that consumers can get the information they need to know before they buy. This is important not just for health reasons, but for people who follow specific diets or have food allergies”. She added her blame for the incident on the supermarket’s disregard of earlier complaints from other customers. “Thanks to the TSOs the product has now been withdrawn from Morrisons supermarkets”, she said.

Morrisons spokesman stated: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and the integrity of all the products that we sell is of paramount importance to us. This is an unfortunate incident where small amounts of meat found their way into a small quantity of all the products that we sell is of paramount importance to us. We now have revised procedures in place. On this occasion we were let down by our supplier and would like to apologize to all customers who purchased the product”.

Reports of the incident do not disclose details of the supplier nor of other retail outlets where such contaminated products may still be on sale.

VEGA says: This is an excellent example of well-informed consumer power applying facilities available to any careful consumer. The actions nicely reinforce the activities of campaigning organisations such as VEGA to impress on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) the need for monitoring the labelling and claims made on foodstuffs and the powers of enforcement manifest by manufacturers, retailers, and sponsors, who must prove fitness for purpose and due diligence. We have adduced examples for the FSA where juxtaposed warnings and approvals appear confusingly on a single product. We must also admit a lack of evidence of shoppers scrutinizing labels in the aisles in the supermarket before they load their trolleys for the wait in the queue at the cash point where they might usefully find time for inspection. Consumer muscle must be flexed individually and collectively to much greater effect in the market.

At least Morrisons and their insurers were not recompensed for the expenses incurred in withdrawing stocks and loss of business. As a spur to further Veggie Might we cite a decision by a government “watchdog”, reported on 3rd April 2007, to spare the Bernard Matthews plant at the centre of the bird flu outbreak from prosecution. Investigators from the FSA examined the possibility that food waste may have been stored wrongly but concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat, environment spokesman, said: “Given that the DEFRA-commissioned reports into the Bernard Matthews affair pointed clearly to breaches in the regulations and that there was TV footage of wild birds feeding off open waste-bins at the plant containing poultry meat, this is an astonishing decision”. (The Guardian, 3rd April 2007). It will continue to rankle.

The Suffolk outbreak was confirmed 2 months ago. It was the first time the virus had been found in farmed poultry in Britain. The turkey sheds confining the birds were intended to separate them from wild vectors of zoonotic diseases but breaches of biosecurity were reported. The outbreak resulted in a cull of 152,000 “healthy” birds as a precaution organised by the State Veterinary Service. Last month it emerged that Bernard Matthews will receive £600,000 compensation from DEFRA. The firm declared that it “has always maintained that it has acted with the utmost integrity and cooperated fully with the relevant authorities… We have systems in place to ensure we meet and in some cases exceed the measures imposed by DEFRA, FSA, and the Meat Hygiene Service”.

In consultations with these authorities VEGA contest many of these assurances and relates the enormities to violations of animal welfare and decent husbandry. A webcast of the latest Open Meeting of the FSA Council in London on Thursday, 15 February 2007 shows VEGA in action (Q&A session). Our website carries information on consultations.  

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