Campaigners say products on supermarket shelves are misleading customers

Food companies are selling products labelled "British" or "traditional" which contain meat from thousands of miles away, research for The Independent shows.

Supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op now stock more British meat, but some sell processed meals with ingredients sourced from overseas in a way that may jar with customers.

A shepherd's pie sold by Sainsbury's as part of its British Classics range with a Union Jack on the packaging, is made with lamb from New Zealand, 11,000 miles away. Another British Classics meal, Lancashire hotpot, also contains New Zealand lamb, along with Marks & Spencer's "traditional favourite" shepherd's pie.

All three list the meat's country of origin somewhere on the packaging – unlike Birds Eye's chicken dinner meal from its "British Traditional" range.

The product carries a picture of rolling green fields reminiscent of the English countryside, but is made in a factory in the Republic of Ireland and contains intensively produced chicken from Thailand, 6,000 miles away. Birds Eye changed the product's name from "Great British Menu" at the start of the year after complaints from members of the public. In small print on the back, the pack states the chicken comes from abroad but does not state its country of origin.

Rob Ward, founder of the Honest Food Labelling Campaign, said: "The Food Standards Agency (FSA) say you cannot portray a product using words or images that misrepresent the food, so if you are using a scene of rolling countryside then that should imply those ingredients are from that scene.

"More importantly, Birds Eye also mis-use the word 'traditional'. The use of 'traditional' is defined by the FSA as something made in its original form, so a roast chicken dinner implies small-scale production, but clearly this is made in a factory in southern Ireland and it isn't even made by Birds Eye."

Mr Ward, who invites the public to vote on misleading marketing on his website,, said Sainsbury's should not have used the term British Classic on a dish containing Antipodean meat, even if it was in season. "I think it's wrong," he said. "Sainsbury's have announced they are only using British and Irish beef so that's a great step forward ... so clearly they believe it matters."

Sainsbury's insisted its labelling was "clear and transparent". A spokesman said: "In this case the 'Great British Classics' name and use of the Union Jack is to highlight the fact that both shepherd's pie and Lancashire hotpot are both uniquely British dishes. The packaging on both clearly states the lamb is from New Zealand and it is important to remember we only use New Zealand lamb when lamb is out of season in the UK."

Birds Eye said: "We are always clear about the source of our ingredients. If any of our products, including our 'Traditional Beef/Chicken Dinner', are produced in the UK but contain meat which is sourced from other countries, then we clearly state this on the pack."

Marks & Spencer was unavailable for comment.