Newry company fined for false labelling of beef

July 6, 2015

A Newry food company has been ordered to pay more than £70,000 costs for falsely labelling beef products and Halal meats.

Freeza Meats was also fined £22,500 for fraudulently selling burgers with the substitute ingredient of beef hearts.

The company, which no longer trades, was at the centre of a horsemeat scandal in 2013 which led to the loss of multi-million pound contracts and more than 30 jobs.

An investigation carried out by the former Newry and Mourne District Council (NMDC) exposed the fraud in the first case of its kind in the UK.

The former director of the company later said his firm did nothing wrong.

Freeza Meats was originally charged with 71 offences, involving failure to comply with EC food regulations.

The Newry court heard last Monday that Freeza Meats had bought almost 655,000 tonnes of beef hearts to use in their supermarket products, in a mass scale fraud to mislead the public.

Labels on burger products did not identify the beef hearts as a separate ingredient. EC Regulations state that beef hearts cannot be considered a meat product.

Freeza Meats also admitted packaging Halal Garrick and Alfa burgers that did not contain Halal meat.

The company used meat which had not been slaughtered according to Halal ways in order to cut the cost of hiring a Muslim preacher to prepare it.

It was stressed however that none of the fake Halal meat had been sold to Asda supermarket.

The council’s environmental health department, together with the Food Standards Agency, detected the illegal operation after an extensive and costly investigation.

The council faces considerable court costs of £32,669 and a further £39,000 for its forensic work.

A defence lawyer told the court his client had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had not committed any further offences.

He highlghited that even though the products misled the customer, health had not been at risk.

District judge, Eamonn King said public confidence had been damaged and said the products were “cheaper substitutes” used to benefit the company financially.

The public are entitled to know that their food is fit for purpose, he said.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Cllr Naomi Bailie welcomed the outcome of the court hearing and said the case had shown that District Council Environmental Health Officers have the legal powers and ability to investigate serious types of food fraud.

“This goes towards helping to restore consumer confidence and protecting the unwitting consumer from being misled and at the same time providing an even playing field for all the other businesses within the district and beyond who are operating with responsible and legitimate practices,” she added.

Eoin Devlin, Assistant Director of Health & Wellbeing said, “Supported by the Food Standards Agency, this is the first investigation of this kind by any UK local authority.  Unprecedented steps had to be taken to investigate the practices of the company including the seizure of large quantities of paper and computer records and forensic analysis of these documents to uncover fraudulent practices going on in the business.  We have worked with authorities across the UK and our counterparts in the Republic of Ireland to gather extensive evidence to prove this case.”