How safe is your supermarket chicken?
How Safe Is Your Supermarket Chicken?
According to Cambridge University, one in four of the chickens we pick up each week from our local Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Waitrose, Co-Op and Morrisons is riddled with antibiotic-resistant E coli.
According to Dr Mark Holmes – the researcher behind the study – it’s this antibiotic resistance which is particularly worrying, “Every time someone falls ill, instead of just getting a food poisoning bug, they might also be getting a bug that is antibiotic resistant.” Which could seriously derail your nutrition plans, and have much more serious consequences for your health.
“I am concerned that insufficient resources are being put into the surveillance of antibiotic resistance in farm animals and retail meat,” Holmes continued. “These results highlight the need for improvements in antibiotic stewardship in veterinary medicine.”
But Holmes isn’t the only person calling for stricter surveillance of meat production at the source. When it comes to supermarket meat – and poultry in particular – so-called “false farms” are a major source of contention.
Try rolling these names across your tongue like fine single malt: Woodside, Boswell, Redmere, Rosedene. Aren’t they British and beautiful? Don’t they evoke the landscape our grandfathers fought for? A rustic Albion of sward, clover and dung, of hay-stuffed barns, busty milkmaids and a belching sorority of cows. And as you trudge down the chilly Tesco aisle – looking, perhaps, for a pork steak containing just the right combination of nutrients, at an acceptable price and for which the animal didn’t suffer too much – a serving of Woodside Farm pork, with the quaint associations of its name, might look and sound ideal.
(Related:MHinvestigates the great supermarket swindle)
But there’s a problem. Woodside Farm does not exist. Not only that – there is no guarantee that the pork in the Woodside packet is even British. It may just as easily be Danish or Polish, or come from elsewhere in Europe entirely. Or possibly from Westeros. Woodside Farm – like the other designations listed above – is little more than a controversial and, some may argue, sinister branding exercise focused more on linguistic muscle flexing and loophole exploitation than any environmental or animal welfare concerns.
Of course, Tesco is not the only company employing such tactics. Aldi’s ‘Ashfield Farm’ is not a real place, but a brand-name slapped onto chicken and beef. Even upscale Marks & Spencer places its salmon under the evocative ‘Lochmuir’ brand, though you’d be hard pushed to find it on a map. Meanwhile, you’d be forgiven for thinking its chickens have been hand-reared on its middle England-baiting Oakham™ farms – though, according to its website, this just equates to “specially selected, known and audited farms in the UK”. In short, across almost all supermarket branding, the reality of such places is often far removed from these broadly painted invocations of pastoral idylls.
False farms, or “brands of convenience”, as labelled by Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, are just one ruse supermarkets pull to persuade us to spend more. As consumers become increasingly aware of the ethical and health implications of what we put in our baskets, bamboozling us into believing we are making nutritiously sound choices becomes an increasingly savvy marketing ploy.
Video: Secrets of supermarket meat and fish: Testing the food you buy (CBC Marketplace)
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