An independent report into the horse meat scandal describes an incident when a retailer met with a supplier asking for a “gourmet” burger to be provided for “less then 30p”.
In his interim report into the scandal, Chris Elliott, professor at the Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security in Belfast, calculated that only by using non EU-approved meat, offal and mechanically-recovered meat would it be possible to produce a burger for anywhere approaching this price.
Elliott said: “One supplier of carcase meat and meat products told me in confidence of a meeting with a retailer in which they were asked to produce a 4oz ‘gourmet’ burger for a unit price of under 30p. The supplier believed that by using the cheapest beef available, priced at 264p/kg – the meat being from older cow rather than prime young beef – and factoring in fixed costs including labour, packaging and transport, the lowest possible unit price for the burger would be 59p.
“To produce a 4oz ‘gourmet’ burger at a cost price of less than 30p, the supplier calculated that the average price of beef would need to be just 85p/kg.”
In the report, Elliott calls for the creation of a Food Crime Unit, within the Food Standards Agency (FSA), to undertake “investigations into what may be serious organised crime”.
The report said the UK food and drink industry was estimated in 2012 to be worth £188 billion, and with industry testing showing UK meat samples to contain 1 per cent horse DNA, “the cost of criminal behaviour may be substantial”.
Elliott said: “Our focus now urgently needs to turn to tackling food crime. Due to very limited intelligence it is hard to gauge the scale of this in our food supply chains. Estimates of the extent of criminality in food provision vary widely. In the UK we don’t know the scope or extent of the problem. Data collection and well structured surveys should be considered as a matter of urgency to fill in this knowledge gap.”
Elliott calls for closer working between government departments and a “more robust” FSA; more effective audits of producers, storage facilities, processors and retailers; and standardised food testing backed by a “sustainable public sector laboratory system”.
A final report is expected in spring 2014.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said unannounced inspections of meat cutting plants had increased, the FSA was developing a new “Intelligence Hub” and funding for food sampling had been increased.
He said: “We will continue to work closely with the food industry, enforcement agencies and across local and central government to improve intelligence on food fraud and our response to it.”
City of London Police arrested two men in August on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud in connection with the scandal as part of an ongoing investigation.