British supermarket Booths has confirmed that it is working with the UK Food Safety Authority’s (FSA) National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) as it investigates how meat labelled as British, but originating in South America and Europe, was supplied to it.

The food crime unit has described issue as food fraud, not a food safety issue.

The FSA confirmed to the Irish Farmers Journal on Thursday night that the investigation concerns pre-packed sliced meat and deli products and not minced beef, burgers or steak.

The British supermarket issued a statement saying it was “categorically NOT under investigation by the NFCU”.

“Booths support for the investigation relates to a limited selection of cooked meat products and Booths have no knowledge of any other aspects of the investigation,” the company said.

“At the point of being made aware of the potential issues in 2021, Booths acted instantly, removing all relevant products from sale and ceased trading with the supplier with immediate effect.

“Booths would like to confirm that fresh meat, poultry and game products are entirely unaffected by this investigation and that with the exception of the limited selection of cooked meat products impacted in 2021, Booths is absolutely confident in its British only meat commitment.”

Food fraud

NFCU deputy head Andrew Quinn this week told the Irish Farmers Journal that the unit was investigating how one UK retailer was supplied with pre-packed sliced meat and deli products labelled as British when they were in fact sourced from South America and Europe.

“The retailer was notified on the same day that the unit took action against the food business suspected of the fraud and immediately removed all affected products from its supermarket shelves.

“The retailer continues to work closely and co-operatively with the NFCU investigation to progress the case against the supplier. This is not a food safety issue, but a matter of food fraud,” Quinn said.

The NFCU deputy chief highlighted that any food fraud investigations of this nature take time to go through evidence and bring to any outcome, including any potential prosecution.

“We take food fraud very seriously and are acting urgently to protect the consumer,” he said.

Operation hawk

Last December, the NFCU reported on its Operation Hawk, an investigation into the directors of a company responsible for selling large volumes of pre-packed meat products to a UK supermarket retailer that prided itself on selling only British products.

“Our investigation has revealed that the offending company have been selling large volumes of meat products sourced from South America and Europe,” the unit reported.

“The investigation has had to prioritise the review of circa 1.3m documents.”