Gangs behind £1bn food fraud

Criminal gangs are smuggling contaminated meat into shops around Britain and the problem is getting worse because no one is enforcing the law, according to an environmental health expert.

Despite the Government's denial that such gangs are a problem in this country, Dr Yunes Teinaz, adviser to the Islamic Cultural Centre and the London Central Mosque Trust, believes the illegal meat trade is "flourishing".

He has a death threat against him to prove gangs are operating around Britain.

He said: "I had been investigating a gang for selling illegal meat. Someone offered my boss 100,000 to kill me or 20,000 to fire me." Fortunately for him his chief simply reported them to the police.

Agricultural Minister Lord Rooker told the Yorkshire Post that most illegal meat imports came from individuals who were not aware of the law but Dr Teinaz says gangs around the world use individuals to smuggle meat.

He says meat is now the third largest illegal trade in Britain after arms and narcotics and is an industry worth 1bn.

He is a man on a mission to track down rotting, stolen carcasses from the UK, illegal halal meat and bush meat from Africa – including zebra, antelope, elephant and rat.

Other types of illegal meat include "smokies"– animals stolen from England and Wales, then burned with a blowtorch. They are a delicacy among the African community.

Dr Teinaz's motivation is the danger of disease which he says poses a huge threat to public health. He said: "Ninety five per cent of food poisoning is caused by meat products and there are an estimated 5.5 million cases of food poisoning in Britain every year."

He added: "I'm not against people eating their own cultural food, but there is a history of animal-based disease in this country – BSE, foot and mouth, avian flu. What else do you want to have in Britain?"

He fears the problem is worsening due to a lack of awareness from the Government and environmental health officials.

Dr Teinaz said: "I think the problem is getting worse because of lack of enforcement.

"The main issue is the lack of resources and a lack of awareness among enforcement agencies. They are well aware of this problem and they know where the criminals operate but there is a lack of coordination between the agencies.

"Illegal meat traders are very organised and many are well educated – they know they law, they know the local authorities and how they operate, therefore their business is flourishing."

Dr Teinaz says wherever there is a density of ethnic minorities there is a desire and a market for local delicacies from abroad.

He also believes that illegal meat trading is rife in Yorkshire.

Local councils and trading standards departments in the region insist it is not a big issue in their area, but Dr Teinaz said he was surprised they were not aware of the problem.

"There will definitely be smuggling and trading in Yorkshire," he said. "I am sure there are a lot of problems with illegal meat in certain areas. It is alarming and sad that the Government and local enforcement agencies are not recognising that."

Case Studies

'Maggot Pete' doctored food in 1m racket

December 2003: Peter Roberts, known in the meat trade as Maggot Pete, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for conspiracy to defraud and absconding from bail after police uncovered a 1m food fraud.

Roberts, now 72, went on the run after police uncovered his role in the six-year-long racket, in which 450 tonnes of chicken and turkey, in most cases unfit even for pets, was doctored to make it appear healthy and supplied to supermarkets, schools and restaurants around the country.

Roberts, head of Denby Poultry Products, failed to appear for sentence at Nottingham Crown Court and was sentenced in his absence. He was deported from Cyprus earlier this week and arrested by Derbyshire Police on his return to Britain.

Four other men were sentenced to a total of 10 years jail for their roles in the scam, while another man received a suspended sentence.

Four-year inquiry cracked unfit poultry meat fraud

December 2000: Five men were jailed for between three and eight years after a scandal uncovered by Rotherham's environmental health team and South Yorkshire Police.

A four-year investigation discovered that in the early to mid-1990s hundreds of tons of chicken and turkey meat condemned as unfit for human consumption had been "laundered" and sold to butchers, market traders, restaurants and supermarkets.

The fallout prompted the then recently formed Food Standards Agency to introduce the staining of "high risk" meat – which includes diseased birds and those dead on arrival at a slaughterhouse – to stop it finding a route to the dinner plate.