Know your meat, even when buying local

Posted on: 3 November 2017

The South West has a proud history of promoting good food in addition to those who are passionate about food. “Local beef, lamb and venison” are just a few of the words used to entice consumers in a butchers or on a menu in a restaurant, particularly here in Devon.

Food is strictly controlled at each stage of production right from the farm or fishery until the point of sale to the final consumer. The systems in place go barely noticed by consumers from checks on plant crops or slaughter of an animal to ensure that food is safe to eat.

Food crime threat to the UK’s £200 billion food and drink industry so what’s going on?

Mid Devon District Council Environmental Health Service, working in partnership with Devon, Torbay and Somerset Trading Standards Service, take samples from businesses to check that food is safe, meets descriptions applied and to verify any claims being made such as production methods or the species of animal.

Farmers are required by law to record any treatments that they give to their animals, particularly including the withdrawal period – the point at which the meat would be safe to eat. This information is checked by the Food Standards Agency at the time of slaughter, together with the health of the animal, to ensure that only safe food goes on our plate.

Illegal trading which works outside of these checks costs legitimate businesses hundreds of millions of pounds a year. The meat from this illegal trade may well be contaminated and unsafe to eat; the animal may have a disease or medicine withdrawal periods may not have been adhered to.

Monitoring the quality and safety of food here in the South West goes farther than protecting consumers, it also ensures they have confidence to purchase from local suppliers and supports the local economy.

Multi agency approach to tackle illegal slaughter

We know that there are groups of people who are taking deer, fish and livestock, slaughtering them illegally and passing the product into the food chain. Their behaviour has caused misery to landowners, causes animal disease risk and a risk to the health of consumers.

Dumped sheep carcasses found earlier this year in Mid Devon

The South West illegal meat group was set up in 2015 to tackle these issues in the South West. The group comprises of Police, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Trading Standards, Food Standards Agency, Environmental Health and a number of rural and agricultural organisations. By working together the organisations share information and combine their powers, knowledge and skills to target and disrupt criminal activity; endeavouring to provide a safe community and level playing field for legitimate businesses.

Mid Devon Environmental Health are actively involved in tackling food fraud and organised crime, which can be very harmful to public safety, economic development and fair business competition, by conducting investigations and working with relevant agencies to target criminals. Earlier this year we successfully prosecuted a slaughterhouse operative for running an illegal slaughterhouse and obtained a Confiscation Order for £40,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Illegal cutting room preparing unsafe meat in filthy and unhygienic conditions

In 2017 we participated in multi-agency operations involving the Police and Trading Standards, following intelligence received concerning poaching and the supply of illegal meat. A number of premises were inspected where it was suspected that businesses were carrying out illegal activities relating to deer poaching and the illegal slaughter of animals.  Further visits across Mid Devon are planned.

Poaching is a serious offence and will be treated as such

What steps you can take to ensure that the food you eat is safe?

With meat and meat products at high prices and in demand, there is the potential for businesses to commit food fraud. As a consumer it is essential that you only purchase food from reliable sources and verify any claims being made.  If you purchase meat from the butcher or a restaurant, ask about the origin of the food. Any person selling food must by law be registered with Environmental Health so check with Mid Devon District Council before you buy.

Check labels on foods before you make a purchase. Look for signs of tampering, has the use by date been changed?  Does the product appear to meet the description?  Foods which are sold frozen will have a best before date or best before end date.  Use by dates are used for fresh produce which has a short shelf life.  Frozen food with a use by date is likely to have been previously offered for sale as fresh when the trader has decided to freeze the product.  Frozen meat and fish are required by law to have a date when the food was frozen.

If you are in the food business do not risk buying and selling food where you cannot guarantee the source.

Any information regarding the sale or supply of illegally slaughtered meat or details of poaching or animal fighting can be reported in strict confidence to the Lead Officer in Environmental Health on 01884 255255 or email: health@middevon.gov.uk

Meat described as being local when it is not can be reported to Trading Standards via Citizens Advice on 03454 040506

Alternatively, to report poaching or livestock theft contact the Police on 101 or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or crimestoppers-uk.org

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Posted in: Environment