Major supermarket chains including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl have suspended their purchase of chicken from the 2 Sisters Food Group, the country’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken, after an undercover investigation by the Guardian and ITV News revealed tampering with food safety records.
Following the allegations, the Food Standards Agency was swift to attend the Group’s West Bromwich plant and has since announced its own investigation.
The Agency initially stated: “Our inspectors found no evidence of breaches. However we continue to review the evidence and if any incidences of non-compliance are found we will take prompt and proportionate action with the business concerned.”
However, the Group has since suspended production at its West Bromwich plant and the Agency has extended its investigation to cover all of the Group’s poultry plants, with the Agency’s Chairwoman, Heather Hancock announcing: “Although our initial inspection [of the West Bromwich site] found no risk to public health, we are broadening our investigations until we are satisfied that this is truly the case.”
Undercover footage obtained shows an instance of altering the slaughter date of poultry, with workers confirming that they had been asked to switch labels on other occasions. The result being that food processors could print incorrect use-by dates on supermarket packaging, something which is illegal.
Unlike “best before” dates, use-by dates are set for safety reasons.
Shadow Business Secretary, Jack Dromey, commented to the Guardian that he had been told by sacked workers in 2009 that the dating of chicken meat was changed so that meat which should have been thrown away was sold to supermarkets. Mr Dromey added that he reported these allegations to the Group.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, the head of the 2 Sisters Food Group, apologised for the scandal during a session of the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee hearing and pledged to fund the cost of independent inspectors to police all 12 of the company’s chicken sites and to improve standards at his factory, increase training of his workforce and install closed circuit television to check on staff.
The committee pledged to launch a more thorough parliamentary inquiry into food standards next year.