How we champion British standards and values in food production is being hotly debated. The images of chlorine-washed chicken in the US has given us a stark comparison between what is potentially on offer to British consumers, and what they in turn find unacceptable. Putting aside for a moment what other countries do, we must be sure that we understand what we mean by ‘British standards’, and what we have to do to live up to them.
Not living up to our own standards is unacceptable. If we want consumers and the Government to trust the British poultry sector and the meat it produces, then we must consistently earn that trust. To do that we must be open, and embrace an active debate, both when things go well and when they go poorly.
The detail of our standards is freely available. The production chain (farming and food production) is broadly covered by two assurance schemes that are independently audited; which are Red Tractor Assurance and the British Retail Consortium’s Global Standards. These standards are underpinned by extensive legislation, regulation, and guidance owned and enforced by our Competent Authorities in Defra and the Food Standards Agency.
Every BPC member does its utmost to comply with the standards we have committed ourselves to. However, it would be naive to claim that we achieve them 100% of the time, although that must be our aim. Things go wrong, machinery breaks, people make poor decisions, accidents happen. What we can say is that every failure will be fixed, and measures put in place to stop it happening again.
It will be values like this, over and above the technical details, that will set us apart from imported food. Provenance is not simply a geographical location, it is the skills and the values that have been applied in the production of that food. Bird welfare and food safety are the foundations of poultry meat production. We must live up to our standards, and part of that is being honest enough to know when we could do better.