BBC reporters filmed illegal meat on sale
Hackney Council has defended its food safety inspection regime after a BBC investigation revealed a ‘large quantity’ of illegal meat, including cane rat, on sale at a local market.
Undercover reporters filmed butchers offering the illegal and potentially unsafe meat at the Ridley Road Market in east London.
The programme has prompted some food safety experts to question EHOs’ priorities and to call for more resources to be made available to tackle meat crime.
Independent environmental heath consultant Paul Povey was asked by the BBC to verify the meat was illegal and to give technical information. He told EHN that the problem was widespread and that ‘many EHOs’ do not have the necessary training or experience.
He added: ‘I have been involved in this in one way or another acting for local authorities for several years. The situation is still there.
‘The FSA and local authorities have known about this trade for a while and still little appears to be done.
‘My view is that local authorities should stop hounding reputable food businesses on minor regulatory issues and concentrate on real public health issues such as the sale of illegal and unfit meat.
‘We need as a profession to be self-critical sometimes.’
A Hackney spokesperson said its EHOs have an ‘excellent understanding and level of knowledge’ needed to carry inspections and deal with the illegal trade and that officers have previously been involved in successful operations to ‘drive the trade out of the market’.
Feryal Demirci, cabinet member for neighbourhoods said: ‘These are isolated incidents that are in no way typical of the great food and products on sale from the majority of traders and shop keepers at Ridley Road.
‘I must stress that this is not meat that being is passed off as other meat, it’s a discreet trade, serving a niche market who will be aware this is illegal, and we are actively seeking to stop it.
‘The council’s EHOs carry out regular unannounced inspections or visits, and all of the premises mentioned in the BBC report have had one within the last year, with the most recent happening in June 2012.
‘Hackney has had problems with the sale of illegal meat in the past, along with a number of other boroughs. When we’ve had evidence, we have taken action to drive out this illegal practice.
‘I would like nothing more than to be able to close down premises selling illegal food immediately, but we must follow the correct procedures. Right now, EHOs are investigating the premises concerned based on information we now have to enable action to be taken.
‘This council will investigate any allegations raised, and this is in addition to continuing our rigorous inspection regime.’
In the past five years the council has reduced its EHO team by one full time equivalent post.
A spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said: ‘The FSA can and has made funds available to local authorities for help in tackling the illegal meat trade.
‘Any local authorities that have concerns or intelligence related to this issue are encouraged to contact us if they need any technical advice or financial assistance for investigations in this area.’