Concerns over underground meat market in Northern Ireland

The increase in sheep rustling in Northern Ireland may be indicative of a black market in meat, a member of the legislative Assembly (MLA) has warned.

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann has called for funding for a ‘flock watch’ programme, following an increase in sheep rustling in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of sheep have been stolen in recent attacks, leading the police to speculate that it is the work of an organised gang.

In the raids, a total of more than 400 sheep have been stolen in the Co Antrim area.

Swann said: “This is highly organised, serious crime. One of the major concerns is that there may be an underground meat market running now within Northern Ireland.

“The meat will be killed and processed, then sold. We could be looking at all sorts of health factors and food risks if they are not being slaughtered under the proper regulations.”

A Northern Ireland police spokesman said that anyone in the meat trade with information should get in touch. He added: “We are not talking about 20 or 30 sheep in these cases, but hundreds, and somebody must know something about them.”

A spokesman for the FSA in Northern Ireland said that it took the issue of food fraud very seriously and although it does not believe there is a significant problem in the UK, when it does occur, the Agency has a responsibility to protect the consumer.  

She said: “Meat sold for human consumption must be from animals slaughtered in an approved slaughterhouse. The FSA is responsible for ensuring approved premises meet the highest standards of hygiene to ensure food safety. All meat should have an identification mark indicating that it has been passed fit for human consumption. If meat has been stolen, then the consumer has no guarantee that it has been handled or stored properly to ensure it is fit for human consumption. eople should not purchase or consume meat from unknown sources.”
“The FSA has a dedicated Food Fraud Unit which uses intelligence received about rustling to inform enforcement officials about the potential risks to consumers. Anyone with information relating to illegal meat should contact their District Council or call the FSA food fraud hotline on 020 7276 8527.”