Giddy up for local butchers

According to a recent poll*, more than a third of people (36 per cent) in the UK say they’re now less likely to buy processed meat as a result of negative headlines.

The same survey found that 13 per cent of people are now buying more locally sourced meat, and five per cent are purchasing less meat altogether.

In Midlothian, results of the Advertiser’s weekly online poll suggest that UK trends are being echoed in the county.

Jim Cockburn (67), who runs James Cockburn & Son butchers shop in Woodburn, contacted us with his take on the scandal.

Arguing that it has been “the best thing” to hit the high street since the outbreak of BSE in the 1980s, he said: “We’ve noticed a difference and are selling a lot more mince and burgers – I reckon there has been around a 20 per cent increase in custom.”

As someone who has been doing things by the book since becoming self employed 42 years ago, the butcher has no sympathy with companies – including Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op – that have withdrawn frozen food products found to contain horsemeat.

“They have been found out and it’s great to see their representatives grovelling on the television. But it annoys me when they say things like: ‘We, as a food industry must make changes’. Never mind the ‘we’ – I have been doing things right since starting out on my own.

“I know how much it costs to get good quality meat, and when you see companies selling burgers at 10p each you wonder how they do it. I have always known that something was going on because good quality food is never cheap.”

All of Mr Cockburn’s beef originates from Burnshot Farm in Linlithgow. On a weekly basis, animals are processed at a registered abattoir in Paisley before arriving at his shop at 8 Woodburn Avenue, where customers can inspect animal passports for themselves in the front window.

The entire process, from how a cow in a West Lothian field ends up on his meat counter, is well documented. Indeed, every cow that he purchases can be traced back to its grandparents, and when I press him for evidence he provides tickets showing weights, kill dates and other details such as the name of supplier (farmer) and country of origin.

Dalkeith-based Aytoun Fine Meats is another shop where trade has been given a boost following the scandal.

Manager Eric Seath (49) said: “The negative publicity has helped us – it definitely has put sales up.

“The supermarkets have been getting away with this for years and the people of Dalkeith have been getting dragged out of town to do their shopping.

“They [supermarkets] have tried to kill off town centre shopping without any consideration for people’s livelihoods. We’ve had to lay people off in recent years and so I won’t be shedding any tears for the large companies at the centre of this scandal.”

If independent butchers are enjoying an unexpected boost who can blame them? After all, the recent spike in trade has hardly levelled the playing field. Tesco, Britain’s biggest store, is said to make £106 a second while Asda’s operating profits rose by £51m to £857m on sales of £21bn last year.

In stark contrast, the number of UK butchers has plunged from 30,000 to 6,000 in the past 20 years. With this week marking National Butchers’ Week, it would seem that they at last have something to celebrate.

Certainly, Mr Cockburn was grinning from ear to ear as we parted company.

He reckons he must be the dearest butcher in Midlothian, but says he couldn’t care less.

“I sleep at nights,” he remarked as his customers pushed past me at the door.

*Source: Kantar Survey 2013