Cheap Chicken A Cause For Concern [Update]

via: ptppix (flickr)

It may come to you as no surprise that supply-chain standards have been exposed as unsanitary and unsafe by an investigation carried out by The Guardian and ITV on the 2 Sisters chicken factory in West Bromwich.

Footage captured by an undercover reporter who infiltrated the factory shows working picking up chicken from the floor and putting it back onto production line conveyor belts, changing stickers that are used to organise chicken by ‘date of kill’, and the mixing of old, returned chicken, with new chicken before packaging.

This news of poultry problems has already sent shockwaves through the industry and has prompted a quick response from the Food Standards Agency (FSA):

“The FSA takes any allegations of inaccurate labelling and breaches in hygiene regulations very seriously. Our experts are reviewing the footage to determine whether the incidents shown break the rules, and if so we will take prompt and proportionate action with the business concerned. We would urge ITN and the Guardian to share any additional evidence, including witness statements, that would inform any investigation.

“This particular cutting plant is regularly audited by the FSA and they are also subject to unannounced inspections.”

Marks & Spencer, one of the many supermarket chains that regularly used this particular chicken factory, has already suspended buying from Two Sisters following the findings of the investigation, stating that “We have commenced an immediate investigation into these allegations and will not be taking any more product from the West Bromwich site until it has concluded to our satisfaction. As per our statement yesterday, the standards shown in the footage are unacceptable, we take hygiene and traceability very seriously and have extremely high production standards.”

This news comes as yet another indictment of the poor standard of mass-produced foods, and the disregard for customers whose health is not a primary concern for factories that care more about the bottom line than the family consuming the products they produce.

The 2 Sisters factory processes around 6 million chickens a week, a staggering scale of production, and runs an annual operational profit of £90.5m from a £3.1bn revenue.

Among concerned parties are Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, and Lidl, who all use this factory as a major supplier of the chicken in their stores up and down the country, including stores across Brighton & Hove.

These recent revelations concerning the quality and standard of this cheap white meat has made me consider cutting out the white meat entirely with no assurances as to the quality and standard of this mass-produced meat. The problem may be chicken related, but the clear irresponsibility and poor standards uncovered in this investigation is by no means poultry!

I spoke to shoppers visiting Aldi on London Road earlier about what they though of this story and how the developments have altered their consumption. One shopper that stopped remarked that the story had reduced the trust she had in supermarkets to deliver quality produce:

“I usually buy quite a lot of chicken from here [Aldi], it’s cheaper than everywhere else and I think it’s pretty high quality. […] It’s worried me that I might have that piece that was on the floor!” – Anne, 31

For another customer, this latest development seemed to explain why and how she finds Aldi to be consistently the best value for money supermarket in Brighton, and gave her cause to doubt what she had previously taken to be high quality meat:

“It always struck me as strange at how they [Aldi] keep the prices so low. I’ve often wondered about the use-by-dates, they seem a lot shorter in Aldi. Maybe tat’s got something to do with this. I mean, I’m assuming they’re getting in that second-hand meat that is being sent back, but I’m not sure about that.” – Elle, 26

Many customers saw such practices as par for the course, asserting that the latest developments in this story weren’t too much to worry about,”you cook off the germs anyway”, said one passer-by. But Adam, 28, stressed that this news has definitely affected the way he is going to shop in the short term until this issue has been settled:

“I don’t really buy much chicken anyway, but this has definitely put me off. We were planning a chicken roast this Sunday, maybe now we’ll have Beef.”

For many though, this revelation comes as no surprise at all, and is seen as endemic of an industry looking to continuously lower costs of production to both boost profit margins and to incrementally lower prices in stores. Rene, 24, a vegan environmentally conscious shopper had this to say:

“This should be a wake up call for the meat eaters out there. The supply chains for this stuff are horrible at every stage. It [the latest news] doesn’t surprise me, the industrial scale of production is bound to produce this sort of outcome.”

Whatever your position on this debate, one thing is sure; these revelations must be cause for concern for all of us. If supply chains are falling below the required standards of health and food safety then that affects us all. We need to stand together as a consumer base and demand that standards improve if we are to see any real and positive change to an industry that operates behind the closed-doors of the factory floor.

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