Maxime Anciaux - All rights reserved

Can quality label for beef in Belgian supermarkets be trusted?

It turns out that the origin of one third of the beef carrying a Belgian quality label in our supermarkets can't be traced. That's according to research by Febev, the Federation for Belgian Meat. The conclusion is that the quality label Belbeef, which guarantees consumers that the beef is of Belgian origin and that it has not been tampered with, is not reliable. Retailers Delhaize say there is nothing to worry about, as the meat has not been tampered with. Febev itself says the results have been interpreted the wrong way. 

The tracing is being done by ear numbers. First of all, the VRT found out that not every package on the shelves can be matched with the ear of the slaughtered animal: of 34 samples, only 18 could be linked to an ear kept in the abattoir (though abattoirs are obliged to keep every ear). 

Moreover, in these 18 cases, there was only a match for 12 meat samples. This means that in one third of the cases, the meat was from an unknown origin, or at least not from the animal that had been slaughtered and of which the ear had been kept. This does not mean that this meat is bad, but the label is promising consumers things that can't be proved and this is a problem, because it concerns a special quality label which should be reliable. 

While this research may only apply to a couple of dozen samples, results of efforts done by the Federal Food Safety Agency, are showing similar results. The origin of the meat on our shelves can often not be traced, in a quarter up to a third of the cases. 

This is the result of human error. There is no tampering involved. Consumers can rest assured

Roel Dekelver (Delhaize)

The supermarket store Delhaize has responded to the allegations.  They say that we are not talking about fraud or deliberate tampering, and suggest that it is the result of human errors. "During the process, people may have been a bit careless, and certain animals or parts of animals may been mixed." Roel Dekelver of Delhaize is talking of a "purely human error."

Mr Dekelver wants to reassure consumers: "They can be sure that the meat carrying the Belbeef label is 100 percent what it should be. There is no chance that beef from abroad would end up in our meat. So there is no impact on the food safety or taste."

Retailers Colruyt claim they can prove the origin of the meat on their shelves. Talking about the research done, they suggest a human error could responsible.

Febev itself says "internal research results have been misinterpreted". Michel Gore says that the lot number on the label goes back to different lots of animals, not to one animal in particular." In other words, he says it's normal that one package on the supermarket shelves can go back to differen animals. 

The results have been wrongly interpreted

Michael Gore of Febev