Waitrose under fire for 'British' meals made with New Zealand lamb

Emma Woollacott
One of the Waitrose ready meals
One of the Waitrose ready meals

Waitrose is rebranding its 'British' ready meals after a barrage of complaints that some of them contain New Zealand lamb.

Three of the TV dinners - Waitrose British lamb with mint and redcurrant, Waitrose British lamb hotpot and Waitrose British shepherd's pie – are made with New Zealand, rather than British, lamb.

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When complaints first emerged last year, the supermarket slapped stickers on the meals saying 'made with New Zealand lamb', and says it plans to rebrand them altogether as 'classic' rather than 'British meals.

But that's not good enough, shoppers say.

Over the weekend, Lake District shepherd and author James Rebanks created a Twitter poll asking people what they thought - and only 3% said they believed the labelling was acceptable.

"To anyone reasonable this is basically dishonest and misleading," says Rebanks.

And rather than rebranding, said 93% of people in a separate poll, the supermarket should simply use British lamb instead.

Waitrose responds that the labelling referred to the origin of the recipe, rather than the food itself.

"Our policy is to sell the best available lamb in season, and we choose New Zealand lamb purely because of its quality," it continues.

"This means in the winter months, outside of the UK lamb season, we source from selected farmers in New Zealand. These farmers meet the same exacting standards as our dedicated group of British farmers."

The National Farmers Union isn't impressed.

"The inclusion of the word 'British' in the brand name despite the meat being sourced from New Zealand is misleading for shoppers - and it's frustrating for British farmers, especially those who produce lamb Waitrose could have sourced," says president Meurig Raymond.

"We'll continue to push this message with Waitrose, and others in the supply chain."

Over the next few years, the chances are that consumers will become more and more keen to make sure that their food is produced in the UK.

Theresa May has highlighted meat products as one of the main imports from the US in the event of a new trade deal.

However, any agreement will almost certainly mean accepting US food safety standards - which are far lower than the European standards in force in the UK today.

This could mean unlabelled GM foods appearing on British shelves, along with beef from cattle dosed up with hormones and antibiotics, and chicken that's been washed in chlorine.

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"UK has been under the blanket EU restrictions where they will only take non-hormone, non-antibiotic treated beef," Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs for the US' National Cattlemen's Beef Association recently told CNBC.

"We still don't have the full access that we would really like."

If you want to be sure that you're buying British, the best way is to look for the Red Tractor logo. This guarantees that the food is traceable, safe to eat and that it's been produced responsibly - and that it's been farmed, processed and packed in the UK.

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