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Beyond the Label

By Rosewood Farm, Mar 7 2016 02:59PM

This time last week we were in the middle of a ministry inspection to check the eartags on all of our cattle. It is a legal requirement that cattle must carry a tag bearing the animal’s unique ID number in each ear. This number is given to the calf at birth, for which it also receives a ‘cattle passport’, an identity document without which the animal cannot move off the farm and accompanies the bovine throughout its life. This, in conjunction with on-farm record books and the database held by the government, allows individual animals to be traced & located at all times. Every farm and place where cattle are handled, such as markets and abattoirs, also have an individual ID number which is logged in the passport and on the database after every move.

Eartags under inspection
Eartags under inspection

The morning went well and the inspector was pleased with our record keeping & cattle handling, which made his job easy. Just as he was preparing to leave another vehicle pulled up in the yard. This time it was our Food Hygiene inspector who was passing by and decided to call in for an informal visit. The requirements for selling meat, on which we are inspected, include having a traceability system in place to track all the beef sold right back to the birth of the animal. Every beef label must include a traceability code which in our case is the eartag number(s) of the animal(s), for which we also keep detailed records. Although it’s not compulsory, we also use the same system to track our lamb and mutton too, so we can offer the same level of traceability on all our produce.

We use the more stringent beef labelling regulations on our lamb too
We use the more stringent beef labelling regulations on our lamb too

The food hygiene inspector was the third person that week to ask the question - ‘who supplies your meat?’ This always takes us by surprise a bit. Isn’t it obvious? We do! Our product is very specialist and we have it that way for a reason; our high personal standards and belief in what we do. It seemed only natural to us that our customers could rely on us absolutely to uphold these standards at all times, so that they know what it is they are paying for! If we have to deviate, we will let customers know before purchase and amend labelling accordingly.

Buying in meat to sell on is tricky for us. For a start it has to be purebred Dexter beef or Kerry Hill sheepmeat. Sometimes this is something we have to deviate from slightly in order to keep up with demand because these breeds are not terribly numerous and we therefore occasionally end up with crossbred animals, but they will be labelled as such so no one is under any illusions.

The second difficulty is perhaps the more serious of the two and that is finding true grassfed stock. What is often meant by ‘grassfed’ in the wider industry is that the animal eats some grass in accompaniment to its grain ration. As you may know, we are avoiding grainfeeding for a number of health and environmental reasons so this is simply not good enough for us. We also insist that the grass the animals eat avoids the trappings of grain such as ploughing and re-seeding, fertilising and weedkillering, as a lot of the benefits of grassfeeding are completely lost in that case!

Grass - it's very important to us
Grass - it's very important to us

This is why we do not sell pork and chicken either, even on behalf of other producers. Until we, or another producer, crack the problem of the environmental impact of the inevitable grain proportion of these animals’ diets, or the soil erosion caused by ‘free ranging’ them, we cannot sell it in good conscience!

When used together the theory is that via the eartags, database, records and labels meat can be traced from farm to fork. However it isn’t always clear to the consumer which number relates to what, or who they can ask. At Rosewood the label is just a small part of the traceability system. Being a small, independent family farm when you send an order or an e-mail through you are in direct contact with me; the same person feeds the animals, fills in the records and packs the orders. You don’t have to rely on the label alone to tell you how your meat was produced - just ask!

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