Speculation rife around National Food Crime Unit investigation into mislabelled beef

Speculation rife around National Food Crime Unit investigation into mislabelled beef

It is being reported that an unnamed supermarket and meat supplier is under investigation by The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) regarding pre-packed sliced beef, labelled as British but coming instead from South America and Europe.

The BBC has reported that the NFCU said it is looking into the directors of a company that sold large volumes of pre-packed meat to a UK supermarket “who pride themselves on only selling British products.”

Retailers Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl, Aldi, the Co-op, Waitrose, Morrisons and Marks & Spencer were contacted by the BBC and have said they are the not the retailer which had been supplied with the beef.

However, on closer inspection Meat Management can report that this investigation by the NFCU was first reported on 16th December but was not widely shared with the wider industry at a top level, despite the implications. Those implications are that more product could have been unwittingly purchased and be spread more widely throughout the supply chain.

The meat investigation is not the only item on the NFCU’s annual update involving a ‘large UK supermarket retailer’ as Annex B in this reference revealed: National Food Crime Unit – Annual Update | Food Standards Agency.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), which also spoke to the BBC, told Meat Management: “There is an awful lot of speculation on social media as to what the products are and which supermarket is involved.

“For the record, this National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) investigation was reported to the FSA within their annual report in December 2022 at which time it entered the public domain.

“At that time, AIMS asked, on behalf of our membership, for clarity as to what the product was. They declined to tell us and despite us continuing to ask have [repeatedly] failed to tell us. It was only on Wednesday this week that we found out from speaking with a journalist that the issue related to sliced cooked beef.

“It is important to remember that this isn’t a public health issue but one of product integrity.

“It is highly unlikely that any criminal who has scored a success with one retailer is likely to have stopped their criminal activities there and we are concerned that they could have targeted other parts of the supply chain, in particular, cash and carries, foodservice suppliers, and wholesale suppliers to the bakery and sandwich shop industry.”

For some time AIMS, along with others in the trade are concerned about the reputational damage to the industry and this story has broken 10 years following the major horsemeat scandal. AIMS said: “Again, despite us raising concerns the NFCU have simply shut down our requests for information stating that they report to their executive management and the FSA board.”

The National Food Crime Unit is currently part of the Food Standards Agency.

Andrew Quinn, deputy head of NFCU at the Food Standards Agency told Meat Management: “The FSA’s National Food Crime Unit is investigating how one UK retailer was supplied with pre-packed sliced meat and deli products labelled as British when they were in fact sourced from South America and Europe. 

“The retailer was notified on the same day that we took action against the food business suspected of the fraud and immediately removed all affected products from their shelves. The retailer continues to work closely and cooperatively with the NFCU investigation to progress the case against the supplier. This is not a food safety issue but a matter of food fraud. 

“Any fraud investigations of this nature take time to go through evidence and bring to any outcome, including any potential prosecution. We take food fraud very seriously and are acting urgently to protect the consumer.” 

The NFCU said that it will not provide further details on the case as “this could jeopardise the investigation and any future proceedings.”

Reference: National Food Crime Unit – Annual Update | Food Standards Agency

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