Sheep industry slams labelling

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Coles is under fire from sheep producers for misleading consumers by labelling lamb as ‘hormone free’ and there are fears it could have an impact on export markets.

For the past month, the retail giant has labelled its lamb as having ‘no added hormones’ on individual packaging and in-store signage.

However, on television advertisements, Coles celebrity chef Curtis Stone said hormones have not been used in lamb or chicken production for years.

The labelling claim has been described by the sheep industry as a mischievous and disingenuous marketing ploy, because hormones have never been used in lamb production.

WAFarmers spokesman Jeff Murray said he believed overseas customers may pick up on the perceived use of hormones in lamb and it would be detrimental to the export market.

In 2009–2010, WA exported 19,600 tonnes of lamb and Australia’s total value of lamb exports was $932 million. Demand for WA lamb is strongest from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, United States and Jordan.

According to Sheepmeat Council of Australia president Kate Joseph, the claims follow Coles’ move to stock only hormone growth promotant (HGP)-free beef earlier in the year.

“There is no basis for the labelling and it’s misleading, because there are no hormones registered for use in lambs or sheep for use as growth promotants,” Ms Joseph said.

“We want consumers to know that lamb is a fabulous product. It’s grown on grass, there is some feedlotting and our growth is from genetics and good feeding. It’s a really healthy produce that is high in zinc and iron and nothing is added.”

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) livestock executive officer Ian Randles said consumers had a high level of trust in big retail chains such as Coles.

“I don’t believe this trust is misplaced necessary, but retailers do push the boundary for marketing purposes,” Mr Randles said.

The PGA plans to write to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) regarding the matter, while WAFarmers will discuss Coles’ move in May at its next meeting.

The Sheepmeat Council of Australia will also be keeping a close eye on the situation.

A Coles spokesman said the intent of the labelling was to address a customer misconception.

“Following our move to beef without added hormones, we started receiving requests from customers to remove added hormones from other meat lines, such as chicken and lamb,” the spokesman said.

“Many customers don’t realise that these products are not treated with HGPs.

“We’ve labelled these products as having no added hormones simply to address this misconception.”

The spokesman said Coles did not dispute the fact that Australian lamb was not treated with HGPs and was not claiming any role in removing them.

“We are simply trying to correct a misconception that we were seeing with some customers,” the Coles spokesman said.

A spokesman for the ACCC said they could not comment on if there was any investigation into the labelling.

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