Call to end misleading labelling

The Scottish Government is being asked to step in to end confusion over tartanised meat labelling.

The leading consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus Scotland, is publishing research showing that a wide variety of labels and pictures are being used on packs and shelves to signify that produce is Scottish, but shoppers are seldom told precisely what these mean and so are left to make their own assumptions about quality and origins of the products.

Consumer Focus Scotland found the legally protected term ’Scotch’ for quality beef and lamb is being joined by a variety of other ‘Scottish’ labels. A survey of consumers, carried out to accompany the research, suggests nine out of ten do not understand the difference between ‘Scotch ‘ and ‘Scottish’.

The Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, Martyn Evans, says the Scottish Government should step in and look at new guidance to help consumers:

“While nobody is setting out to mislead their customers intentionally, the use of many different pictures and labels associated with Scotland means that many red meat products which do not offer guarantees about their quality and origin are being mistaken for those that do.

“The term ‘Scotch beef’ or lamb has a legal status. It means that the meat has been born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland, and has met published and quality assured standards in its production including how the animals are reared. The term ‘Scottish’ offers no such quality guarantees and can include former dairy cows and breeding livestock.”

“Our findings also highlight the role that supermarket displays are playing if they place ‘Scotch’, ‘Scottish’ and non-Scottish products all together near large banners or flags. We don’t think that anyone is out to deceive customers but, without some clear guidance on this, they’re certainly going to run the risk of shoppers being misled.”

The Consumer Focus Scotland report Use of Scottish origin labelling on fresh and frozen meat examined items being sold as of Scottish origin labelling by checking labelling and traceability systems, reviewing the definitions of ‘Scottish’ currently in use and inspecting more than 40 different outlets across Scotland.

Consumer Focus Scotland commissioned a YouGov poll of 980 Scottish consumers which explored their understanding of the terms ’Scotch ‘and ‘Scottish’. It found that only 10 per cent correctly identified that ‘Scotch’ was a guarantee of better quality.


Notes for Editors:

Report Recommendations

To deliver clarity for consumers, Consumer Focus Scotland is recommending:

  • The Scottish Government should consider producing guidance on the use of Scottish Country of Origin labelling so that consumers know what is meant when they buy apparently ‘Scottish’ food, whether it is in the retail or restaurant sectors;
  • There should be a clear communication campaign to inform consumers about the differences between ‘Scotch’ and ‘Scottish’. ‘Scotch Beef’ and Lamb are required by law to meet certain assurance standards related to the quality of the animal husbandry and meat processing used while no such standards necessarily apply to something called ’Scottish’. At present consumers do not understand the difference and in fact a You Gov poll demonstrates that they think the opposite is true; 
  • More care must be taken to ensure that consumers are not misled by large overarching merchandising suggesting that all products are of Scottish origin when some are not. Staff in retailers need to be better trained to ensure that they do not mislead customers as to the country of origin by the way they arrange their produce on shelves, counters and cabinets; 
  • Restaurants and other catering outlets could make more use of country of origin labelling on beef, lamb, pork and chicken. This should be on a voluntary basis. Lessons could be learn from small retailers many of whom control the accuracy of their country of origin labelling simply by having a contractual assurance from their supplier and documentation which confirms the origin of their produce;
  • Whilst the meat supply chain is regularly policed, local authorities and the Scottish government need to ensure the resources are there to allow Trading Standards and Environmental Health officers to check the validity of labelling in retail outlets.


The Research

This project examined the current use of Scottish origin labelling of fresh and frozen meat by retailers. It -

    a) Sought information from retailers and suppliers on their labelling as well as the recording and traceability systems used to ensure their validity;

    b) Examined the use of Scottish origin labelling in store through more than 50 visits by Scottish Consumer Council staff and members of its Consumer Network to over 40 different retail outlets across Scotland;

    c) Reviewed the definitions of ‘Scottish’ currently in use;

    d) Researched the legislative and governmental systems in place to police the use of these labels;

    e) Commissioned a YouGov poll on recognition of the terms ‘Scotch’ and ‘Scottish’.
    Consumer Focus Scotland started work on 1 October 2008. The new organisation was formed through the merger of three organisations – the Scottish Consumer Council, energywatch Scotland, and Postwatch Scotland.

Consumer Focus Scotland is rooted in over 30 years of work promoting the interests of consumers, particularly those who experience disadvantage in society. We work for consumers in aspects of their lives: as council tenants, householders, patients, parents, solicitors’ clients, public transport users, bank depositors and borrowers, postal service users and as shoppers.

We identify issues of concern within various markets; engage and develop policy through research and speaking to everyone involved; campaign for change; and inform consumers about what’s going on. Consumer Focus Scotland has new powers to research and investigate issues and consumer complaints, to publish information that providers hold and, ultimately, present a “supercomplaint” about failing services


One in four water coolers fail contamination tests

Scotland’s foremost consumer organisation says poorly maintained water coolers may be putting the health of thousands of Scots at risk.

Watchdog, Consumer Focus Scotland, are calling for a review of the law covering many water coolers after 26 per cent of those tested by environmental health officers across Edinburgh, the Lothians and Borders failed to meet one or more safety and hygiene standards.

The water samples, from both plumbed-in coolers and drinking fountains and from bottle-fed dispensers, were taken in schools, care homes and leisure centres as well as workplaces. While all passed chemical analysis, 9 out of 52 samples from plumbed-in coolers and 14 out of 35 from bottle-supplied coolers, failed because of bacterial contamination.

Senior Policy Advocate and food policy specialist at Consumer Focus Scotland, Mary Lawton, says the findings are worrying:

“While the types of bacteria found have the potential to lead to illness, particularly for vulnerable groups, it is unlikely to make people in good health unwell. We don’t want people to stop drinking water and we don’t want organisations to remove water dispensers as they provide a valuable service.

“But, as the failures included a small proportion from water coolers in schools and care homes, there is cause for concern.

“We feel the legislation governing the quality of water from coolers should be reviewed. While there are regulations for bottled water, these are applicable at time of bottling and there is no legislation specifically for plumbed-in water coolers so we had to take tap water standards as covering these dispensers.”

“Ultimately these findings suggest that the cleanliness of water coolers has become a low priority for some organisations who have installed them. The time is right for an awareness campaign, not just to get organisations to make sure the coolers on their premises are cleaned and maintained regularly, but also to get people to use them in such a way that they don’t contaminate them for the next person.”

The Findings

The samples were tested for 5 bacteria types known to cause illness, particularly in people who are vulnerable due to frailty or existing ill health. Samples were also cultured at body temperature. As pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria thrive at body temperature, the presence of large numbers of bacteria colonies gives an indication of problems.

52 samples were taken from POU coolers. 9 of these failed (17 per cent) – some of these on more than one count.

35 samples were taken from bottled water coolers. 14 samples failed (40%) again with some failing on more than one count. Of the 35 bottled water samples, 8 showed the presence of coliform bacteria and 3 of the bacterium S. aureus.

The Recommendations

Consumer Focus Scotland is recommending that all organisations and individuals with water coolers on their premises should ensure that:

1. The exterior of the coolers, including the dispensing taps, are cleaned at least once a week.

2. Bottled water coolers are cleaned internally every 3 months.

3. Plumbed-in water coolers have their filters changed every 6 months.

4. Water cooler users should be made aware of their responsibility to use units hygienically – not placing hands or mouth on the tap – possibly using pictorial advice on or near the coolers themselves.

5. Plumbed-in coolers should be attached to a mains water supply rather than be supplied from a tank.

Consumer Focus Scotland is also calling on the Scottish Government and the Food Standards Agency to review legislation governing the quality of water from coolers as existing legislation is unclear and therefore difficult to enforce.