Food regulators are launching a crackdown on takeaways after studies showed lamb is being illegally replaced by cheaper meats.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) today announced testing would take place across the UK from May. Officials said there was evidence of substitution of lamb for cheaper meats such as beef and chicken.
Trading standards chiefs in Yorkshire have carried out a number of prosecutions in recent months over missold meat, with two Indian restaurants in North Yorkshire and another in Wakefield fined for passing off beef as lamb. Another in Leeds sold lamb to diners who believed they were eating ostrich.
A review by the Food Standards Agency of local authority data for the last six months of 2013 found 43 out of 145 samples of lamb takeaway meals contained meat other than lamb. Some 25 of these samples were found to contain only beef. Other meat identified included chicken and turkey. No samples contained horsemeat.
Local authorities are being asked to test 300 samples from takeaway restaurants and report the findings to the agency.
In a separate study today, consumer watchdog Which? tested 60 takeaway lamb curries and minced lamb kebabs from restaurants in Birmingham and London and found 24 of them had been mixed with other meats such as beef and chicken. Seven of the samples contained no lamb at all.
The meat in five of the samples could not be identified, with the most likely explanation for this being the meat had been overcooked or re-cooked.
Which? rated the lamb samples to be contaminated, or adulterated, if they contained more than five per cent of another meat.
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said it was “shocking evidence of food fraud”.
“The Government, local authorities and the FSA need to make tackling food fraud a priority and take tougher action to crack down on the offenders,” he said. “This is vital to restoring trust in the industry, which is not only good for consumers but good for businesses too.”
Prof Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security, said: “The survey results come as no great surprise to me. Whenever issues about food contamination and adulteration are looked for in a serious way they are found. Without rigorous monitoring programmes in place cheats will always try to take advantage of consumers.
“We need to develop systems in the UK that deter fraud and help support the many businesses that work hard to deliver safe and authentic food.”
Andrew Rhodes, chief operating officer at the FSA, said: “Substitution of lamb for cheaper meats in takeaway food, as seen in our own data and the survey released today by Which?, is unacceptable and we are working closely with local authorities to ensure robust action is taken against any businesses misleading their customers.
“Prosecutions have taken place against business owners for mislabelling lamb dishes, but the recurring nature of the problem shows there needs to be a renewed effort to tackle this problem.
“Clearly the message isn’t getting through to some businesses.
“The further priority testing we have announced today will focus the efforts of enforcement officers and raise awareness amongst food businesses of the action they face for defrauding consumers.”