The UK’s National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) is investigating a possible case of food fraud after a supermarket stocked beef with false British labels.
An unnamed supermarket has been forced to remove the products from its shelves, the NFCU said.
Prepacked slices of beef and deli products were packaged as if they were from the UK, when they were actually from elsewhere in Europe and South America, the unit said. The affected products did not include minced beef, burgers or steak.
The UK’s biggest supermarket chains said they were not affected. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, the Co-op, Waitrose, Morrisons, Iceland and Marks & Spencer said they are not the retailer that had been supplied with the beef, according to the BBC. Ocado also said it was not involved.
Food fraud has periodically attracted national attention. One of the biggest controversies involved is the 2013 revelation that horse meat was mixed into many products labeled as beef only. That scandal, revealed in testing by Ireland’s food safety authority, involved the sale of millions of meals containing horse meat passed off as beef.
The NFCU, which has law enforcement powers, is part of the Food Standards Agency, the UK’s food regulator. It has said that “criminality in the red meat sector” is one of its key targets, with a focus on beef, pork and lamb, which are generally the most expensive meats.
The unit revealed the investigation in December. It is investigating the directors of a “company responsible for selling large volumes of prepacked meat products to a UK supermarket retailer, who pride themselves on only selling British products”. Investigators were looking at 1.3m documents.
Misrepresenting the origins of food from cheaper countries – particularly those with lower wages or laxer safety standards – can give suppliers a cost advantage over rivals.
Andrew Quinn, the deputy head of the NFCU, said: “The retailer was notified on the same day that we took action against the food business suspected of the fraud and immediately removed all affected products from their shelves.
“The retailer continues to work closely and cooperatively with the NFCU investigation to progress the case against the supplier. This is not a food safety issue but a matter of food fraud.”
The NFCU said it would not comment further so as not to jeopardize the investigation or any future proceedings.
“Any fraud investigations of this nature take time to go through evidence and bring to any outcome, including any potential prosecution,” Quinn said. “We take food fraud very seriously and are acting urgently to protect the consumer.”
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