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April 16, 2013

Only fools eat horses?

Written by Michaela Parker. Photos of Source Food Hall, St. Nicholas Markets

In the aftermath of January’s horse meat scandal where the meat was discovered in several of our supermarket’s processed beef products, many have understandably begun to seriously question the supply chains in the UK’s food industry. To date, more than 17 products tested multiple times, have tested positive for horse DNA and have been withdrawn from sale after being marketed as frozen beef products.

At a time when the battle between supermarkets and independent shops is raging, the scandal has only added further clout to our belief here at the Bristol Pound that we should be supporting our independent traders and businesses. With shorter supply chains independently, and fresher, seasonal produce sold at fairer prices, it seems that many consumers have had enough and are running from their habitual supermarket packaged meat through the door of their local butcher to buy produce which can usually be traced right back to the field.

For years, people have questioned the provenance of the ingredients in certain processed foods. For example, the supermarket sausage has been an article of much debate over the past decade but when challenges arose over the contents of a pork sausage, consumers simply moved to brands with a higher meat content, entrusting that any pork content was the highest quality meat from the pig. And all was seemingly forgotten. In the light of the recent horse meat scandal however, we are yet to see the impact it will have on other meats and processed products which once again will be thrown into the limelight.

An independent butcher has short food links so is often directly linked to the farms that supply his meat. In other cases, the butcher often rears their own cattle and sell their very own meat. Stream Farm, an organic farm in the Quantock Hills in Somerset do just this, believing that our countryside is better served by several small farms selling directly to the consumer than a few huge farms selling to supermarkets. They encourage the selling of meat in bulk and even offer advice on using lesser known cuts of meat as well as to pay half the cost of a chest freezer to those that wish to be part of their vision but don’t already own one!

With consumers being converted to shopping with independent businesses after the scandal emerged, an increase in custom has been noticed by many butchers and more importantly, increased interest in the origin of produce sold.

Joe Wheatcroft from Source Food Hall says, “Certainly, the issue has been good for business and we have noticed an increase in interest in provenance and our sourcing policy.” He also believes that ultimately, the issue will highlight the shortcomings of larger scale operations as people become more concerned with what they eat. “Trade based on trust and a short supply chain can only exist on a small scale and will succeed in areas where the larger scale retailers fail. As people become more aware of the food they eat, small independent businesses like ours will grow in popularity, I’m sure.”

Abbie Hewitt is one such shopper who has changed her shopping habit since the scandal arose. “I’ve pretty much always bought my meat from the supermarket ‘butcher’ but if I ask them where their stock comes from, they only know the country, not the farm. The scandal has made me realise how important it is to know the source of your ingredients and I’ve since been using our local farm shop butcher who can tell me where they source all of their meat including details- down to dates and farmers.”

With Bristol Pound’s farm link initiative allowing businesses such as Stream Farm and The Community Farm to trade in Bristol Pounds despite being outside the city, we hope to encourage more customers to buy directly from primary producers, supporting local food
networks and ensuring recirculation of currency between businesses and their customers.

With a sea of new customers at these and many other local companies since the horse meat scandal arose, it seems that convenience and price are not always paramount and where people are losing faith in the supermarkets, our independents are reaping the benefits, finally getting the recognition they deserve.

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