The author of a Government-commissioned report into food fraud has warned that areas like Bradford are “vulnerable” to the supply of contaminated meat, as an investigation into an illegal food processing plant in the city continues.
Professor Chris Elliott, who has now published the first part of an independent review into how the industry can be protected from fraudsters, told the Telegraph & Argus his research had found inner-city areas with high numbers of restaurants and fast food outlets were more likely to be the victims of shoddy practices.
He said some businesses would look to buy cheap meat and the products would receive a lower level of scrutiny than those going into big supermarkets – meaning there was a “point of vulnerability” in the supply chain.
The academic’s comments come as an investigation into an illegal meat plant at West Yorkshire Lamb, Beef and Poultry Ltd, Unit 2, Iron Works Park, Bowling Back Lane, continues.
It is understood its owner has yet to be traced.
The premises was searched by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Bradford Council environmental health officers and Home Office Immigration Enforcement on September 3 last year and there were initially fears that up to ten tonnes of meat processed at the site could have made it into the food chain.
However, it later emerged that the plant was registered as a company up to six weeks before it was raided, leading to speculation that the figure could be as much as 48 tonnes.
After the story was published, the T&A was contacted by residents concerned the illegal meat trade could be operating on a wider scale in the city.
Prof Elliot said such a suggestion was “disturbing” and he would question the FSA about the matter as part of his review.
Asked whether areas like Bradford are more likely to be targeted by those setting up illegal meat plants, he said: “I found inner-city areas are a particular point of vulnerability because there are so many fast food outlets which may want to buy cheaper meat.”
He said it was an issue he would investigate further. In his review, on the topic of the meat market, he wrote there was a “danger” that processors might buy illegal meat due to increased pressure to keep their costs down.
“If the alternative to buying cheaper meat is losing a contract, they may purchase fraudulent meat through careless procurement practices or simply a need for a cheaper product.
“This could be illegal meat including meat from regulated/unregulated abattoirs and cold-stores, relabelled meat that is of the type not suitable for human consumption, or meat trim with the ‘visible lean’ percentage increased by inclusion of red offal, meat from other species, or meat not suitable for human consumption.”
Prof Elliot’s report, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department of Health, also called the introduction of a specialist food crime unit.
Councillor Andrew Thornton, Bradford Council’s executive member for environment and sport, said he could not comment in detail but he would be interested to read Prof Elliot’s findings.
“We want to ensure customers in Bradford are served meat that has been produced in hygienic conditions and is what it says it is,” he said.
“I look forward to seeing what’s in the report as the horsemeat scandal was something that caused a great deal of distress to a number of people.”
Councillor Rebecca Poulsen (Con, Worth Valley), the Council’s shadow portfolio holder for environment, said it would be a “concern” if suggestions Bradford had a wider-scale problem were true.
The FSA says the number of inspections of meat-cutting plants has increased, with 1,450 having taken place across the country since January this year. However, it said it did not hold any information about the number of raids or prosecutions in Bradford.
A spokesman for Bradford Council said they could not comment on West Yorkshire Lamb, Beef and Poultry Ltd until the conclusion of the investigation.