The Mancunion

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UK’s largest meat supplier violates food safety standards

The University of Manchester calls for reassessment of the UK’s food system after a huge poultry meat company has been found repacking old meat

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‘2 Sisters’, the UK’s number one supplier of poultry meat, was outed by an undercover investigation for serious food safety breaches.

Following the investigation into food safety breaches and professional misconduct within a ‘2 Sisters’ poultry factory, the University of Manchester’s European Food Crime Research Group called for a re-examination of the functionality of the whole food system.

Last week, footage was released showing employees of the largest supplier of meat to UK supermarkets failing basic hygiene practices, manipulating food safety dates, repackaging unsold meat and mixing older meat with new. The Food Standard Agency say its inspectors had previously audited the site as it announces its own investigation on the back of The Guardian’s and ITV’s evidence of potential regulatory breaches at the chicken processor.

Video evidence depicted employees re-labelling the ‘date of kill’ of the poultry meat, potentially to extend the use-by dates of these products on show in supermarkets, thus furthering the value of the product. The ‘2 Sisters’ company supplies over a third of poultry products eaten every day in the UK, and is stocked by major supermarkets including Marks and Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, and Tesco.

The University of Manchester’s European Food Crime Research Group expressed little surprise at the nature of the malpractice. This comes from the investigative findings for the Economic and Social Research Council’s “Understanding the Challenges of the Food Supply System,” which argues there are structural problems within the food market. This allows unethical and unhygienic practices to become commonplace in routine food processing, production, and distribution procedures.

With profit being the main motivation of food processing for many supermarkets, some of which struggle to compete within the highly competitive food market, it is clear hygiene practices are being compromised. Given the extortionate amount of food fraud incidents, it seems unethical behaviours can be easily concealed behind usual business practices. This indicates a large-scale problem within the food system.

The Food Crime Research Group emphasised that it would be a mistake to individualise the ‘2 Sisters’ company as solely responsible for committing such ethical malpractices. Such attacks on individual companies and suppliers defer from the main issue of the flawed food system itself, which lends itself to fraudulent practices becoming normalised in the pressured environment of the current market.

Jon Spencer, Dr Nicholas Lord, and Dr Cecilia Flores Elizondo from the University of Manchester’s European Food Crime Research Group stated that if the food system is to be “more transparent and fair,” we need to “urgently reform our food supply markets in order to ensure authenticity, sustainability and market resilience.”