'You shouldn't buy meat in the pub': Butchers worry food fraud is on the rise

Credit: PA

Warning: This report contains graphic descriptions of animal cruelty

There are concerns that an increase in animal theft could be linked to the cost-of-living crisis, as criminals look to cash in on rising meat prices.

Around £2.4 million of cattle and sheep were stolen last year, according to an annual rural crime survey.

Overall, livestock theft increased 3.7% in 2021, compared to the year before.

In some cases, animals were slaughtered and butchered while still in farmers’ fields, meaning they did not undergo safety checks at a registered abattoir.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, which conducted the survey, said: “Livestock theft has always been an aspect of farming, but now it’s larger scale and much more organised."

She added: "With meat prices going up we may find that we see an increase in livestock being stolen and then being put into the illicit market."

"It's larger scale and much more organised" - NFU Mutual are worried that criminals are selling stolen meat on the black market

Charles Goadby, a 42-year-old farmer from Warwickshire, woke up one morning to discover that his prized pigs had been killed and stolen.

All that remained of his livestock was a trail of blood.

He's concerned that the rise in rustling will lead to an increase in unethical killing and animal cruelty.

He said: "They had their throat slit in front of the other pigs. It would have been so distressing and horrible.”

He added: "When they are going to be slaughtered, it should be done in an ethical way. They should feel no pain and know nothing about it."

"It would have been so distressing and horrible" - Charles Goadby's pigs were killed and stolen from his farm

How can I check my meat is safe?

As well as animal welfare concerns, butchers are concerned about the public health risks.

Under UK regulations, meat should be slaughtered in a registered abattoir and undergo strict health and safety checks before being made available for sale. But cheap black-market meat will bypass this important process.

John Mettrick, butcher & chair of the Abattoir Sector Group, wants people to be wary of food fraud.

He said: "You shouldn't buy meat in the pub. I would advise people not to go for anything that’s very very cheap.

He added: "You must make sure that you get it from a licensed premises. If you’re not sure where it's come from, you’re not sure what it’s going to do to your health."

"You shouldn't buy meat in the pub" - Butcher John Mettrick tells ITV Reporter Katharine Walker how to check for safe meat

This video contains distressing images

In a statement, Darren Davies, Head of the National Food Crime Unit at the FSA said: “Food fraud can be hard for consumers and legitimate businesses to detect, so you should be wary of meat that costs much less than you would expect. If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. 

“Although there is currently no evidence to suggest that illegal meat entering the food chain is a growing problem we are under no illusions that there are major challenges ahead. We remain vigilant and will take action with partners to tackle food fraud to protect consumers and maintain high food safety and standards.”

A Home Office spokesperson added: “The Government is well over halfway to recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers and police are being given the powers, tools and funding they need to cut crime.

"This unprecedented recruitment drive will help ensure the public is better protected, including in rural communities."