The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a fraud inquiry following allegations that a food processing company sold tens of thousands of tonnes of foreign pork to UK supermarkets which was labelled as being British.
An investigation by Farmers Weekly found that mislabelled, and possibly even rotten, meat may have been sold by the supplier to supermarkets, hospitals and schools, over a period of at least 20 years.
It is alleged that company employees duped food auditors by moving meat around a processing plant during inspections. Former employees said they had “washed” rotten meat to make it appear fresh.
CTSI recently revealed its concerns about the dangers of a food scandal similar to the horse meat crisis of ten years ago. At that time, Trading Standards played a pivotal role in tackling the crisis; since then, funding and staffing levels have declined significantly.
The illegal food trade in the UK alone is estimated to be worth at least £700m, and there are increasing concerns that criminals are exploiting vulnerabilities in the system.
CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, said: “CTSI recently sounded the alarm about the high likelihood of precisely this type of food scandal emerging. Unless enforcement is properly funded and those responsible for committing food fraud are brought to justice, cases like this will occur again and again, undermining trust in British produce and potentially putting consumers at risk.
“It is vital that consumers know what is in the food they buy and where it comes from, and that it is safe to eat. We know all too well from the horse meat scandal how bad things can be when the supply chain breaks down. This investigation by the FSA shows a fundamental flaw in the system; if this is happening with pork, there is a strong chance that other meats and food produce could be subject to this kind of fraud.
“Confidence in the food supply chain underpins huge parts of the UK economy and is vital to public health. It is not something that should be neglected or taken for granted.”
FSA Chief Executive, Emily Miles, said: “We are continuing our criminal investigation into how a meat supplier allegedly provided products labelled as British when they were in fact sourced from other countries.
“This is a live investigation which means we are looking into all new lines of inquiry with the relevant local authorities, including investigating potential food hygiene breaches. This is alongside the work we are doing to investigate food fraud.
“Based on the investigation to date, there is no indication that food is unsafe or there is an increased risk to consumers.
“Criminal investigations take time and need to be done with due process and fairness. The FSA will work tirelessly on behalf of consumers to ensure that this criminal investigation is done to the highest possible standards. I do want to emphasise at a time when cost pressures and other challenges mean the risks of food fraud might be increasing, it is vital everyone involved in the food chain works to ensure that food is safe and what it says it is.”