Page last updated at 05:48 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 06:48 UK

Stores investigate meat hygiene

By Iolo ap Dafydd
BBC News

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Stores investigate meat hygiene

Supermarkets are examining hygiene practices at a number of Welsh abattoirs after an investigation showed faecal contamination on meat.

Journalists secretly filmed alongside meat hygiene inspectors and discovered approved carcasses were affected.

While there is no suggestion that the meat reached the public, three supermarkets have launched inquiries.

It has also led to a call for an investigation into how the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) polices the industry.

BBC journalists for the Week in Week Out programme posed as prospective veterinary students for the special investigation.

Meat hygiene issues uncovered

Secretly filming alongside Meat Hygiene Service inspectors and vets, they found carcasses which had been health-marked by inspectors still contaminated by faeces.

Faecal contamination can contain the potentially lethal E.coli 0157 food poisoning bug.

The programme's findings have led the man chairing the public inquiry into the 2005 E.coli outbreak in south Wales to question the role of the MHS.

Prof Hugh Pennington said: "We are very good at learning lessons, but we are even better at forgetting them.

"Events like the 2005 outbreak in Wales, you would expect that would have an impact.

"I'm very disappointed that we seem to be going backwards rather than forwards."

Jane Downes

The majority of controls are perfectly satisfactory

Jane Downes, MHS

Three abattoirs were visited, two in Carmarthenshire at Cig Calon Cymru in Cross Hands and Dunbia at Llanybydder, and HMD, a family run abattoir in Swansea.

Cig Calon Cymru supplies retailers including Somerfield and Marks and Spencer.

Faecally contaminated meat was found in the company's cutting room.

The firm's owner, Enzo Sauro, declined to be interviewed for the programme, but in a statement said: "Since we began operating in August 2005, we have consistently met all the standards required by our regulators, including stringent hygiene regulations.

"We are confident that we comply with all regulatory requirements and adhere to best practice at all times."

Supermarkets

There is no evidence to suggest that contaminated meat from Cig Calon Cymru's abattoir has been sold by M&S or Somerfield.

M&S said a "thorough auditing process" meant it was able to fully investigate the concerns.

A spokesperson for the retailer added: "We were able to act immediately to carry out a full investigation into the BBC's allegations, which showed that our supplier is operating to the standards we demand."

Somerfield confirmed that it suspended supplies of beef from Cig Calon Cymru and launched its own investigation, as well as issuing a product recall to customers.

Dunbia sign
Dunbia supplied meat to the Sainsburys supermarket chain

At Dunbia, which supplies the supermarket Sainsburys, another journalist filmed a number of health marked carcasses still contaminated with faeces.

In a statement, the firm insisted that it always strives to achieve high standards, and was unaware of any current or past instances when MHS procedures were not followed.

The company added that its last MHS audit found "satisfactory performance" in all areas of the plant.

Again, there was no suggestion that contaminated meat was passed to customers by Sainsburys. The retailer is undertaking an inquiry into the allegations and said it works closely with suppliers to achieve the highest standards in food safety and quality.

At HMD in Swansea, a journalist found another health-marked carcass with faecal contamination on it. The company declined an interview but said it supported meat inspectors and wanted them to draw contamination to its staff's attention.

Survey

The Week in Week Out findings come as the meat inspectors' union, Unison, publishes a survey on the work of it members and the MHS.

Unison said 367 MHS inspectors took part in the survey, and 87% of those felt that service was not independent of the meat industry.

Only 10% of those questioned felt that MHS managers would support their enforcement of strict meat hygiene.

Dave Bezzina, from Unison, added: "I think there is an admission of a systems failure within the Meat Hygiene Service as a whole, which is very much built around the lack of support that our members get in trying to carry out their job."

Jane Downes, the veterinary and technical director of MHS, says she's launched an investigation into the BBC's allegations.

She said she is "quite satisfied that the majority of controls are perfectly satisfactory, though there were one or two areas as you say of concern, and that's what we are working towards".

The Week in Week Out Special Investigation is on Thursday 23 October at 2030 BST on BBC One Wales.



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