News Sustainable Farming Campaign

Meat supplier allegedly changes 'use by' dates and country of origin labelling on meat

The Russell Hume meat company may have changed 'use by' dates on meat, and also country of origin labelling - allegedly serving up African and Australian meat as 'British', according to an ITN News report. Sustain's chief executive Kath Dalmeny comments.

New revelations about the Russell Hume meat company suggest that there have allegedly been serious breaches of consumer trust and meat traceability, and even the possibility of fraud. The ITN News investigation suggests mis-use of ‘use by’ and country of origin labelling on substantial amounts of meat being served to high-street pubs, restaurants and – according to earlier reports – potentially schools and hospitals.

The company in question insists that a Food Standards Agency investigation is looking only at ‘use by’ dates. However, an unidentified former worker for the meat company also suggested in an ITN News interview today that imported meat was being re-labelled as British. 

"Imported beef is a third less in price than British beef so there's an opportunity to make 30 per cent more profit," the former worker told ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi. "It’s what the industry does and has been doing for a long time. Falsifying traceability of imported beef and making it into UK beef and then serving it to some of the biggest companies in the country."

The former worker also said, "You'd make sure you had enough beef to service the orders whether it was Botswana, Namibia, Australia and we will make it British."

Sustain chief executive Kath Dalmeny, who was interviewed for the ITN News report, said: “British consumers must be able to trust the meat on their plate. ‘Use by’ dates are an essential food safety measure, telling consumers and chefs when meat has become too old to eat. We know that meat can contain food poisoning bugs such as salmonella and campylobacter; and occasionally – and even more seriously – E.coli 0157 or botulism. In-date, well-handled meat, cooked thoroughly, is safe to eat. But out-of-date meat, handled carelessly at any point in the supply chain, or served rare in a pub or restaurant, could cause serious risks to health.”

“If anyone has been tampering with ‘use by’ dates, this would be a serious breach of consumer trust and potentially food safety. We’re told by the Food Standards Agency that no-one has got sick as a result of such practices, but if this has been going on for years, it’s hard to know on what basis they feel so confident. We may have been unknowingly exposed to increased risk for far too long.”

“Consumers put their faith in local farmers and are prepared to pay more for meat from British farms, which is why there is a premium on meat labelled as ‘British’. If this ITN News report proves true, and country of origin has been falsified, it would show this meat company’s unacceptable disregard for people’s values and food choices, for people's natural support for British farming, and the integrity of the food that we buy for ourselves and our families."

"Unfortunately, mis-labelling and poor traceability may also mask other problems in the meat supply chain, and make it harder to trace and fix any food safety or standards issues that may emerge.”

The revelations come just months after a Guardian investigation in 2017 revealed that the 2 Sisters meat company had changed slaughter (hence shelf-life) dates on chicken destined for UK supermarkets. 2017 also saw the latest court cases and sentencing for perpetrators of the horsemeat scandal, first revealed in 2013, when undeclared horse meat was found in meat supplies to 13 European countries, including UK supermarket beefburgers and ready meals.

Published Friday 16 February 2018

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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