UK supplier accused of selling housed chickens as free-range

The issue of fraud in the UK supply chain has surfaced again with a report that an unidentified supplier of chicken is suspected of substituting housed chicken for free-range birds.

The case has been highlighted in an alert to industry, according to a Farmers Weekly report, which said it is being investigated by the Food Standards Agency’s National Food Crime Unit (NFCU). The article says housed and free-range birds are being mixed before being submitted for slaughter.

The alert and investigation is reported to be the first of its kind in the UK and a criminal investigation is ongoing, with a search warrant exercised at the premises of the supplier.

“The investigation involves poultry meat allegedly misrepresented as free range,” said Andrew Quinn, head of the NFCU. “We have also identified potential food safety breaches and the FSA are working with industry to protect consumers by ensuring affected batches are withdrawn from sale.”

In the summer, the FSA launched a public consultation on a plan to give greater enforcement powers to the NFCU, specifically search and entry powers which would reduce its reliance on other agencies such as local authorities’ Trading Standards teams and the police.

The unit was set up in 2015 in the wake of the horsemeat scandal to tackle serious, organised, or complex cases of crime within food supply chains. It concentrates on fraud that could have detrimental consequences on the safety or the authenticity of food – usually for economic gain – and does not generally focus on broader food safety and hygiene issues.

This is the second major alert involving the UK meat supply chain this year, coming after reports that foreign pork falsely labelled as British as well as spoiled meat had been sold to supermarkets and potentially other outlets including schools and hospitals.

Photo by Ben Moreland on Unsplash

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