The horsemeat found in beef products throughout UK supermarkets may not have posed any significant risk to the health of those eating it, but it has caused widespread mistrust. The shocking findings by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have exposed how the demand for cheap food has resulted in consumers being deceived on a massive scale.
Deceit is a dirty word and, in many instances, a criminal offence. In the case of the horsemeat scandal, consumers have been deceived in the name of profit. Those processing and marketing food have sought to increase their profits (cut their costs) by substituting horsemeat for beef. Although I can’t help thinking that this incidence of food fraud is only the tip of the iceberg, it is difficult to fully assess the extent to which deceit has now infiltrated our diet.
On the other hand, I know that perception is a key ingredient in much of our food. Perception may not be a dirty word, since we perceive things for ourselves whilst others deceive us, but it is another form of food fraud – one that has been harnessed by retailers and processors for years (often called marketing).
In the case of milk and dairy products, processors and retailers always seem to use images of cows happily grazing in green fields to promote their business in company logos, advertising and on labels. Yet, the likelihood is that the milk comes from a variety of herds, some of whom never go outside. But, then there’s nothing wrong with that is there? Nobody actually stated that the cows spend much of their lives at grass – they just helped you to perceive that they do and, in most instances, people fall for this deception. Sorry, did I say “deception”? Of course I meant perception – a very different word. Or is it?
I set up Free Range Dairy for a number of reasons, largely based around concerns about how consumers perceive dairy farmers and the erosion of value in our milk and farms. Whilst farmers may feel they have lost all power in the supply chain, we still have some say in how we farm and the decision whether or not to graze cows is one we are free to make. So, it is us, the milk producers who run pasture-based herds, who should be enjoying the value that consumers place in seeing cows at grass, rather than those profiting from perception.
I consider that Free Range Dairy is developing a new concept in food marketing based on honesty and integrity. “How dull” I hear those clever marketing guys say. Well, the truth is, we know we have an excellent product and we don’t need to deceive people to make it cheaper, nor do we need to create a false perception to promote it. Our milk and our farming methods deliver real value for consumers, cows and farmers. We just need as many farmers as possible to help us to tell people all about it.