Meat firm misled Asda in food fraud case

Freeza Meats Ltd has been fined £42,500 after pleading guilty to 12 offences, including claiming products containing non-halal components were halal. 

Other offences included substituting meat ingredients with cheaper product, for example hearts, and not declaring them as an ingredient on the label, misleading Asda and its customers, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) claimed.

Freeza Meats – based in Newry, Northern Ireland – also pleaded guilty to not providing on request by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council information relating to whom they supplied meat products on nine occasions.

Obstruction of authorised officers by “knowingly providing false and misleading documentation” was a further charge. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) reported that the offences, under the Food Safety Order (NI) 1991 and General Food Regulations (NI) 2004 related to serious food fraud.

Freeza Meats, which ceased trading in August 2013, was fined £42,500 and ordered to pay £71,902.73 courts costs and a £180 offender’s levy by Newry Magistrates Court on 29 June.

Lengthy investigation

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council initiated the court action against the company following a complex two-year investigation, supported by the FSA in Northern Ireland.

“Consumers deserve to know that the food they buy is what it says it is,” said Maria Jennings, director of the FSA in NI.

“Firm action is being taken by district councils against businesses committing food fraud and we welcome the decision by Newry Magistrate’s Court to penalise Freeza Meats Ltd for these offences.

‘Victory for consumers’

“The result is a real victory for consumers. It shows that enforcement procedures work and sends out a strong message to any food business that is tempted to commit fraud. Any food business found to be undertaking fraudulent practices will be subject to rigorous investigation, including the seizing and interrogation of all evidence.”

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council had invested significant time and resource into the investigation and the result bore out these efforts to ensure consumers were not misled through misdescription of food products, said Jennings.

Councillor Naomi Bailie, chairwoman of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, welcomed the outcome, saying: “Following the horsemeat scandal, consumer confidence in what people are eating has been affected.

“While there is no risk to public health, this case has shown that district council environmental health officers have the legal powers and ability to investigate these serious types of food fraud.

‘Consumer confidence’

“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.”

Eoin Devlin, the council’s assistant director of health & wellbeing, said the investigation was the first of its kind by any UK local authority.

He said unprecedented steps had to be taken to investigate Freeza Meats. These had included 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, he added.

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