As the horsemeat scandal continues, The Argus investigates who caters for our councils and scoured for the source of supplies. Reporters Peter Truman and Dulcie Lee report.
Schoolchildren, pensioners and hospital patients are tucking into food, even though they have no idea where the ingredients are from.
Catering companies are hiding behind commercial sensitivity so that the origin of supplies remains a mystery. Even those who boast of using local suppliers are unwilling to prove it or declare where they get their meat from.
In a damning revelation that exposed the shocking lack of transparency in the food provided by the county’s tax-funded services, only one company was willing to tell us where they got their meat from, and even then that did not include all of their suppliers.
During our investigation we discovered the many links in the food chain that make it almost impossible to trace a meal from source to plate.
We requested the names of catering contractors for Brighton and Hove City Council, East Sussex County Council, West Sussex County Council and all of the county’s NHS Trusts.
These are the people who provide the meals your children eat, the food on offer at care homes and what has been delivered by meals on wheels.
One company, 3663 Catering, admitted it does not produce any food but merely repackages and distributes.
In some cases, the chain from source to product can be as many as seven or eight different companies, making following the trail an arduous task.
And it does not have to be that way, with many local businesses happy to name their suppliers and farmers wanting people to know the meat they eat has been produced on their farms.
"Our lambs come from less than five miles away, our beef comes from Passmore farm and our pork comes from Steyning," Paul Williams, from Bramptons Butchers
Paul Williams, from Bramptons Butchers in Kemp Town, pictured below, is proud to say where his meat comes from and encourages customers to ask.
He said: “We have been selling local meat for many years now.
“Our lambs come from less than five miles away, our beef comes from Passmore farm and our pork comes from Steyning.
“We are always singing the praises of local farmers.
“It is something we do with the customers – we let them know where all the meat comes from and they like it.
“It is important to them and we have noticed a lot of people coming in and asking more questions, which is how it should be.
“A butcher should have nothing to hide. We can say which farms and show them certificates to reassure them.
“Some butchers go down to the market and buy there so it is not local but we go direct to farms.
“We are here to make sure customers are informed.
“We can let them know all this detail but supermarkets cannot.
“It is important to me as well as I want meat that is from animals that are free range and local.
“Going local also means it is as cheap as the supermarket.
“It might be easy to do all of your shopping at the supermarket but it comes at a cost.
“They have de-educated people and taken the choice away from them.
“But cookery shows etc are giving people the confidence to come in to butchers and ask questions.”
"We believe in traceability and we can say where everything comes from, " Megumi Evans, Zushi restaurant
Zushi restaurant, in Prince Albert Street, makes a point of saying where its ingredients come from, as it believes the quality can be tasted.
Manager Megumi Evans, pictured below, said: “Japanese food is very simple.
“We do not put a lot of seasoning in our dishes and believe the flavour comes from the ingredients and especially the meat.
“So it is very important we get good suppliers.
“We tested local producers beforehand and made sure we had the best.
“People tell us that our meat skewers taste amazing and we say that is because the meat is locally produced.
“It tastes so much better than cheap supermarket meat.
“We believe in traceability and we can say where everything comes from.
“From a personal point of view transparency is very important.
“And customers also need to be aware of where things are coming from and be able to ask.
“We like to be honest with our customers and that is the main thing.”
"We are part of the Red Tractor scheme, which means it is all traceable," Trevor Passmore, Coombes Farm, Lancing
Even farmers are desperate for people to know it is them providing the meat as they can offer assurances of quality.
Trevor Passmore, who runs Coombes Farm in Lancing, said: “We are getting lots of people phoning up and asking where does your meat go, which is good.
“We do not provide direct but send it to market.
“We are part of the Red Tractor scheme, which means it is all traceable.
“Everything is British and the transparency is second to none.
“Unless it comes from abroad it cannot be messed with.
“The suppliers in Romania and Poland are not doing anything wrong.
“They are producing horse meat but people, some with a criminal element, are moving it around Europe.
“It then comes to the UK labelled as beef.
“If it is Red Tractor it can be traced from source to product.
“If you can cut out the middle men then you minimise the risk of contamination and shorten the chain.”
Firms stay quiet due to ‘commercial sensitivity’
All companies who replied said their suppliers had confirmed they were totally horse-meat free and were complying with all FSA requests.
Brighton and Hove City Council: Meals on wheels, WRVS, who themselves use: Tillery Valley Foods – Despite repeated requests, refused to give name of suppliers.
Ginsters – Normally 70% comes from two abattoirs and beef cutting plants: Jaspers of Treburley and St. Merryn. (This varies depending on the product/promotion etc, but this is the normal figure). Ginsters refused to reveal where the other 30% comes from, citing commercial sensitivity.
Care Homes: 3663 Catering – Refused to provide details of suppliers citing commercial sensitivity.
Primary Schools: Eden Food Services – Despite boasting it uses local suppliers, they refused to provide details of suppliers due to commercial sensitivity.
West Sussex County Council: Care Homes: Run by Shaw Healthcare (Group) Ltd – Despite requests did not respond.
Primary schools: Mainly supplied by Chartwells (part of the Compass Group) – refused to give name of suppliers, also citing commercial sensitivity.
Meals on Wheels and Specialist Day Services: Apetito – did not respond to repeated requests.
East Sussex County Council: Meals on Wheels: Apetito – did not respond to repeated requests.
Primary Schools: Chartwell (part of the Compass Group) – refused to give name of suppliers citing commercial sensitivity.
Care Homes: 3663 Catering – refused to give name of suppliers citing commercial sensitivity.
East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust: In house catering department who use: British Premium Meats – Despite requests did not respond.
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals: Tillery Valley Foods – Despite repeated requests, refused to give name of suppliers.
Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust: Solent Butchers – Despite requests did not respond.
The Argus says: Tell us where our food comes from
Where has my food come from? It should not be a hard thing to find out.
And yet for thousands of people in the county this question remains unanswered.
The horse meat scandal has placed a spotlight on food production in the UK and beyond.
Consumers are now worried about what they are eating and rightly demanding to know where ingredients in meals provided by schools, care homes and other services are from.
It is unacceptable that firms that provide food for the county’s tax-funded services are unwilling to say where they get their meat from.
The firms argue competition is fierce and to release the details would be commercially unviable.
But we have a right to know that the food we are paying for is of good quality.
Restaurants are also trying to get the best prices for their goods in a competitive market in difficult trading conditions.
Yet they understand that the transparency of what their customers are eating is important.
Unfortunately, while a restaurant goer can go elsewhere if they are not happy, those using Meals on Wheels or school meals is hamstrung.
That is why it is even more important that catering companies come clean and tell us where our food comes from.
Talking point: How concerned are you about the type of meat you're eating? To what extent do you think people are too fussy about meat? How has the horse meat scandal changed your eating habits? To what extent should there be more transparency about where meat comes from?
Share your views by commenting below or write in to The Argus letters pages by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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