TB reactor meat: where supermarkets and retailers stand

Sensitivities over bovine TB and the badger cull mean TB reactors are a
no-go for some companies

The public debate about industry involvement in the badger cull and the fight against bovine TB has to date focused largely on sourcing policies - do certain retailers and suppliers buy milk or meat from farmers in cull areas?

But for the meat sector, a second potential controversy is emerging, with some consumers and campaign groups pressing companies on their policies for allowing cattle that have tested positive for bovine TB - so-called TB reactors - into their meat supply chains.

The FSA’s says TB reactors are fit for human consumption, provided they don’t have tuberculosis lesions in more than one organ or region of the carcase. However, given public sensitivities around bovine TB and badgers, some companies are now stipulating reactors be excluded from meat supply.

The Grocer asked the big names in grocery to outline how they are approaching the issue.

  • Tesco: “We don’t allow any bovine TB reactors in our meat lines. We took this decision due to public health concerns surrounding the issue of bovine TB and its risk to consumers. Within the Tesco Code of Practice, no abattoir supplying Tesco beef can slaughter TB reactors on the same day as beef destined for Tesco. This was done as an extra measure to ensure that no TB reactors enter our supply chain.”
  • Sainsbury’s: “While the FSA’s view is there is little if any risk to human health from TB reactor[s], our policy for many years has been to exclude [them] from our supply chain.”
  • Morrisons: [For fresh meat,] “We have our own abattoirs and as such don’t need to buy in meat (for own-label) from third parties, including from TB-licensed abattoirs.” [As for allowing TB reactors in own-label processed or frozen meat], “in theory yes. We don’t specify either way to suppliers as long as they follow our specs and comply with food safety guidelines. It’s also worth noting that not all TB reactors have TB.”
  • Waitrose: “We don’t allow TB reactors in any of our food.”
  • The Co-op Group: “In line with FSA testing guidelines, only meat that is passed fit for human consumption would pass into the production process. We do not have a formal policy regarding the use of meat from bovine TB reactors in our supply chain however, none of the abattoirs in our primary supply chain are involved in the slaughter of TB reactor cattle.”
  • Marks & Spencer: “M&S relies on the FSA Meat Hygiene Service to carry out independent carcase assessment in all supplying abattoirs. Clearly, bovine TB is endemic in many areas of the UK, and known reactors are excluded from our supply chains.”
  • Asda: “Along with other retailers, we rely on Defra and the FSA’s rules and inspection regime. Our abattoirs are officially inspected under the control of the designated official veterinary surgeon so only meat deemed fit for human consumption enters our supply chain.”
  • ABP: “ABP slaughters a limited number of TB reactors at one dedicated plant (Muchelney Abattoir Services) in the South West of England. This plant does not process any cattle other than TB reactors under contract for the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency. Around 10-20 animals are processed here each week. The meat is exported as carcases to a range of customers in Continental Europe. None of the meat enters ABP’s supply chain.”
  • 2 Sisters Food Group: “We do not slaughter TB reactors.”
  • Dovecote Park: “Dovecote Park does not accept cattle for slaughter that are TB reactors on farm.”