Rise in food crime prompts comparisons to the ‘Horsegate’ scandal and the foot-and-mouth headlines of previous years
An industrial-scale country-of-origin fraud scandal has been unearthed by Farmers Weekly. The investigation revealed that up until at least the end of 2020, a food manufacturer was passing off huge quantities of foreign pork – sometimes tens of thousands of tonnes a week – as British.
According to Farmer’s Weekly, the processor, which cannot be named for legal reasons, has also been accused by former employees of “regularly ‘washing’ hams that are visibly off, or mixing rotting pork with fresh product for further processing.”
A criminal investigation has been launched by the Food Standard’s Agency’s (FSA) Food Crime Unit (FCU) investigating how products sourced from Europe and South America could incorrectly be labelled as British, as well as investigating food hygiene breaches.
Emily Miles, Chief Executive, FSA said, “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.”
CIEH said it was ‘deeply concerned’ about the reports. The allegations suggest that the supplier, who cannot be named for legal reasons, mixed rotting meat from Europe and South America with fresh meat, labelled it as British before supplying this to household supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda, Co-op and Marks and Spencer.
“African Swine Fever within the EU poses a current threat to animal health and our farmers so any vulnerabilities in the system, whether they be traceability or hygiene related – must be fully investigated.”
Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, Assistant Director for Food at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said origin declaration in fresh meat is a legal requirement. “There are strict supply chain controls, including detailed traceability records, to make sure fraud is avoided and products are of the nature and quality described.”
“African Swine Fever poses a current threat to animal health and our farmers so any vulnerabilities in the system, whether they be traceability or hygiene related – must be fully investigated.”
Helen Buckingham, independent environmental health consultant specialising in imported food, said it was important not to jump to any conclusions: “However, off the back of a recent rise in food crime in the news lately, it would be remiss not to make comparisons to the ‘Horsegate’ scandal ten years ago and the foot-and-mouth headlines ten years before that.
“Since then, most retailers have worked extremely hard to get things right following the findings of the Elliott Review but perhaps some gaps remain and it’s time to revisit?
Miles added that criminal investigations take time and need to be done with due process and fairness, stating that the FSA would work “tirelessly on behalf of consumers” to ensure the criminal investigation is carried out to the highest 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,” added Miles.
Ross Matthewman, Head of Policy and Campaigns, CIEH said the organisation was encouraging the FSA and the FCU to work closely with the CIEH and its members to ensure a joined-up, coordinated approach.
Image credit: Shutterstock