Call to tighten law after tainted poultry was sold for human consumption


Britain's Food Standards Agency is facing urgent calls to close loopholes in food safety laws after three men were found guilty yesterday of conspiring to sell for human consumption condemned poultry meat, fit only for pet food. Two other men pleaded guilty to the same charge before the trial began at Hull Crown Court in September.

The court was told that the risk to public health was impossible to calculate. More than 1,000 tonnes of heavily disguised chicken and turkey meat was sold to wholesalers, supermarkets and restaurants across England, Scotland and Wales between 1993 and 1996.

Some of the meat was condemned at slaughterhouses, and other birds were already diseased before they were bought, repackaged and eventually sold to food outlets.

The fraud was uncovered after Rotherham Council environmental health officers received tip-offs about poor-quality meat being sold in the area. A four year investigation with South Yorkshire Police revealed a nationwide fraud, which brought the group up to £2.5 million. A raid on one warehouse in Rotherham found crates of rotting and diseased meat ready to be cleaned up and sold for humans to eat.

The fraud trail was long and complicated. Two of the guilty men, Andrew Boid (33) of Lindrick, Nottinghamshire, and Darren Bibby (29) of Oldcoates, Nottinghamshire, ran Wells ByProducts Ltd, which processed poultry meat for pet food.

The company bought huge quantities of condemned meat, which were packaged as pet food, and invoiced the meat to another company called Cliff Top Pet Foods. This company, which was owned by one of the other guilty men, Peter Tantram, cleaned up the meat using huge amounts of salt and it was passed on to another member of the group, John McGinty, who moved the meat on to food brokers.

One of the issues raised by the case is the treatment of condemned meat. If beef or lamb is considered unfit to eat it is injected with indelible red dye to ensure it does not enter the human food chain. But the rules do not cover chicken or turkey, and Rotherham Council has said the rules must be tightened.

Rotherham Council also expressed its surprise that the issue was not taken up by government agencies such at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and that its taxpayers had to bear the estimated £500,000 cost of the investigation.

However, a MAFF spokesman said there was no statutory requirement for the agency to provide resources for the investigation although it did send officials on two raids on warehouses.

Insp Gary Blinkhorn of South Yorkshire Police, who investigated the fraud with Rotherham Council, told The Irish Times that the investigation did not establish a link between the condemned poultry and the Irish market. But Insp Blinkhorn said that because of the huge amount of condemned poultry being passed into the human food chain by the group it was possible some of the meat found its way into Ireland. "Some of the meat may have been exported to the Irish market through small wholesalers," he said.