Nick Lowe, from Birmingham Environmental Health: an update on what’s happening locally

Nick Rowe

These are notes paraphrased from Nick Lowe’s presentation at the Food Crime and Integrity Event Wednesday 3rd December 2014.

I though I’d start with a mention of this – as we talked about the horse meat scandal – I want to give you some local perspective ad how that effects the local authority – and how complex this whole business is.

The horse meat scandal was a really clever crime. Horse meat does not look like beef – hence why it only appeared in processed meats on the shelves – and not in butchers shops as blocks of meat.

We have a problem with a burger manufacturer in Birmingham. They were a victim of the horse meat scandal, but as we were investigating that we found out that they were committing other types of fraud.

They bought their meat from a broker, and the broker got that meat on the open market, and it contained a significant amount of horse…. so we started testing and we detected that he was adding mechanically recovered chicken to his burgers and received a fine of £90,000 for that.

We have dedicated officers dealing with food in the city. 15 full time equivalent people working on all aspects of the food industry in Birmingham.

I was once co-opted on an “Illegal Meat Task Force” with the FSA (that unit is now the Food Fraud Unit). The crime I was investigated was with waste poultry – waste poultry that was destined for use in animal feed, That was cleaned, bleached and making it’s way back into the food chain.

Huge quantities of food that was not fit for human consumption was going to food suppliers – that was originating from a factory that was being paid to dispose of this waste.

This was over 10 years ago, so food crime is nothing new, but there are millions of pounds that can be made so it doesn’t go away.

So us in the local authority are on the front line, and it is a very complex issue, which takes up a lot of resources – and will become more difficult as the cuts take effect.

Why is Birmingham Vulnerable?

  • Populations density,
  • Areas of deprivation
  • Target markets

Simply put: There are lots of people to sell to, There are areas of deprivation and so people want or need to buy cheap. And then the target markets, we have a lot of suppliers and a lot of niche markets so lots of competition, all looking to save money and increase profits so are willing to buy cheap.

What types of food crime are there in Birmingham?

Adulteration, Meat speciation, Fish species, Rice, Other Products with special qualities….

Adulteration, Meat speciation, and fish speak for itself.  But rice? Basmati rice is a big problem at certain times when the yields are low. Maybe 10% of the rice can be substituted for a cheaper quality product but the price stays the same.

Other problems can be around Fraudulent claims – say for instance Halal – how do you tell if your chicken is or isn’t Halal? – How do you know it’s not?

Then there are issues around Accreditation, Health Claims. people claiming things are “Natural, Traditional or Homemade”.

The big thing at the moment is around allergens….Allergens can cause big problems around health!

There was a shop in Aston that was caught using up to 50% peanuts in its Almond powder – which could have caused a serious reaction in someone with an allergy.

An example of work in Birmingham

One prosecution we made was around the big problem of unfit and rejected meat, like as highlighted above, waste products making its way into the food chain.

There was a butchers shop on the Warwick Road that was supposed to have been closed down that we found that was still having large quantities of chicken delivered at the rear of a shop and being left in a yard, open to the conditions in all weathers in filthy greasy containers.

It was then being taken into the building to be prepared to make it “look” like it was fit for human consumption. The conditions in the building were really poor, There was one sink in the whole of building for hand washing.

We raided to shut them down and they were jailed.


It turned out that it was a business in Preston that was supplying the waste meat and then putting it back into the food chain, we found out who they were supplying to we raided there too and took away all the chicken, but it didn’t end there – while doing that we found other meat from questionable sources which we took away too.

As is often the case with these things, one crime often leads to another.

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