Pet food meat ready for human food chain

Pet food meat ready for human food chain

Meat intended for use in pet food was found ready to enter the food chain in Northern Ireland, a major review has confirmed.

The fraud came to light back in 2005, but has been highlighted in the initial findings of an investigation into the UK's food supply network.

It was suspected that criminal gangs were behind the local illegal re-packaging operation - which was worth millions of pounds.

Major concerns were raised about the food safety in Northern Ireland earlier this year when it emerged that horse meat found its way into our food chain.

It was discovered in large percentages in some processed meals, sparking a crisis in the food industry.

An independent report was then commissioned by the UK government - with an interim report highlighting a case in Northern Ireland in 2005.

Queen's University professor Chris Elliott was tasked by the London government to examine how the meat was able to enter the food chain and prevent it happening in the future.

The report said that a suspicious container, which arrived from Asia, was brought to the attention of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

This led to a follow up operation at a cold store in an unidentified location.

The report stated that the presence of an "industrial shrink-wrapping machine raised concern. "

It led on to the discovery of "other packing and labelling equipment and materials."

It then became evident that the "primary business of the cold-store was repacking and re-labelling fit for human consumption 'category 3 animal-by-product' . "

This means product which is not intended to be eaten and can include hides, hair, feather and bones.

The UK food industry is currently too vulnerable to criminals wishing to perpetrate fraud.

Professor Chris Elliott

The report also found that there was evidence to suggest criminal planning behind the operation, with the meat which was found in cold storage that day having an estimated worth of up to £3million.

However, because of what the report has described as being a lack of "necessary investigative resource," the suspicion that the material was part of an ongoing illegal business was not pursued.

Professor Chris Elliott, a world-leading expert on food integrity and traceability, said that the industry is too vulnerable to criminals and more needs to be done to toughen up security following the recent horsemeat scandal.

In his initial findings, he also found that more needs to be done to tackle food crime and that the Food Standards Agency needs to have tougher powers.

He said: "Not enough evidence is collected about food crime and we don't yet know the extent of how this global problem affects the UK food and drink market, worth £188bn.

"Estimates of the level of criminality vary, so further investigation needs to be a priority.

"I will look at this in more detail in the next phase of my review and will look to government, industry and consumers to help develop the evidence here."

He continued: "The UK food industry is currently too vulnerable to criminals wishing to perpetrate fraud.

"We need a culture within businesses involved in supplying food that focuses on depriving those who seek to deceive consumers.

"Government, and in particular a more robust Food Standards Agency has a major role to play partnering these efforts.

"A food supply system which is much more difficult for criminals to operate in is what we need to deliver, working together."

Professor Elliott is examining the causes of the failures that led to the horsemeat scandal and the roles and responsibilities of businesses throughout the food supply chain.

He is expected to publish his findings in 2014.


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