'Local' Food Con Exposed By Council Trading Standards

Investigation reveals almost one in five restaurant descriptions misleading customers

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Somerset butter from Scotland, Welsh lamb from New Zealand and West Country fish fillets filleting in China, are just some of the false `local food’ claims misleading consumers who believe they are buying local produce, a Local Government Regulation investigation reveals today.

Following the increasing consumer interest in buying `local’, council food enforcement officers visited over 300 premises across the country where food is either on sale or being manufactured to ensure customers are not being misled.

In total, 558 products (65% from restaurants, 23% from retail shops and 12% from manufacturers and other) labelled as `local’ were investigated, with many cases requiring further documentary confirmation. Full inspections revealed that at least 18% of the claims were undoubtedly false with a further 14% unable to be confirmed and therefore assumed false.

These false claims were found at similar levels across all food sectors with almost one in five restaurant descriptions misleading customers. Meat and dairy products were frequently misleading with 50% of poultry, 29% of sausages, 27% of both beef and lamb and 24% of dairy products all completely false.

Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of Local Government Regulation, said: “To have around a third of all items investigated turn out to be false or potentially false is extremely worrying. Councils are working with businesses to make sure consumers have the information they need and that they are not being ripped off.

“Many people want to support local businesses or choose food that has not travelled from the other side of the world, so it is vital that they have accurate information to help them make their choices.

“At present there is no widely agreed definition of the term `local’ and it isn’t acceptable. Everyone should be operating in a fair environment and following the same rules. Defra and the food industry must agree the definition of `local’. Whether it is food manufactured within the county or within a 30 mile radius, any agreement would certainly help protect consumers.

"Businesses focusing on local food production operate at the heart of local communities and are vital to the local economy. Local food claims help create a sense of community identity, promote local tourism.”

April 11, 2011