Meat industry insiders have been warned to look closely at the traceability of any free-range chicken in their supply chains, with one unnamed company believed to be passing off housed birds as free range.
An investigation by the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) has revealed housed birds and free-range birds are being mixed at separate, but linked, locations before being submitted for slaughter.
Potential food safety breaches are also being looked into at the same supplier, with the NFCU handing these “based on risk”.
See also: Meat our Expectations campaign
The issues came to light through a Food Standards Agency (FSA) alert sent to industry bodies.
The warning was the first of its kind, and comes on the back of Farmers Weekly’s Meat: Our Expectations campaign, which followed our exposé of industrial-scale food fraud and safety breaches at a meat processor.
A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (Aims) said the alert was a “step in the right direction”, but it had “cast a shadow over the entire industry” because the FSA had not named the alleged perpetrator.
“While misrepresentation is a serious crime if it has been done for deliberate financial gain, the NFCU is also considering potential food safety issues,” added the spokesperson.
“If this is the case, then the industry needs more information – namely the company concerned and which batch numbers may be affected, as well as details on how long this has been taking place.”
The NFCU claimed it has not provided further details at this time as doing so could affect the ongoing criminal investigation or any future proceedings.
Andrew Quinn, head of the FSA’s NFCU, said: “The FSA’s NFCU, along with other authorities, have executed a search warrant at a premises linked to a live criminal investigation into alleged food fraud.
“The investigation involves poultrymeat allegedly being misrepresented as free range. We have also identified potential food safety breaches and are working with industry to protect consumers by ensuring affected batches are withdrawn from sale.”
If product recalls are required, the FSA will publish appropriate information notices.