Why is anyone surprised that a chicken factory engages in questionable activity?

chicken slaughterhouse
Public Domain USDA

The entire industrial food system, after all, is built on cutting corners, from raising animals to consuming them.

An undercover investigation at one of the United Kingdom's largest chicken processing plants has discovered multiple breaches of food safety rules. Employees at 2 Sisters Food Group were caught on film altering the slaughter date of meat in order to print a later use-by date, and some workers confirmed that they've been asked to switch labels in the past.

Other questionable practices included chicken being picked up off the factory floor and mixed in with other chicken. Packages of meat that were returned from grocery stores -- not necessarily because of food safety concerns, but likely mislabelling -- were mixed in with fresher meat and labeled as the same. Chicken slaughtered on different dates was mixed together and labeled with the most recent kill date.

As The Guardian reports, this is a particularly sensitive issue because it follows on the heels of the 2013 horsemeat scandal, which resulted in prison sentences for those convicted of a conspiracy to pass off cheaper horsemeat as beef.

"Having been shown the [recent video] evidence, Prof Chris Elliott, a food safety academic from Queen’s University Belfast who led the UK government’s independent review of food systems after the 2013 horsemeat scandal, said: 'Over the past three to four years I have conducted many inspections of food businesses right across the UK. I have never seen one operate under such poor standards as your video evidence shows.'"

Supermarkets Aldi and Tesco, that purchase meat from 2 Sisters, have suspended buying from them, and the Food Standards Agency is requesting anyone with further information to come forward. 2 Sisters says it hasn't had time to investigate the allegations.

While the investigation's findings are disturbing, it's important to understand that the entire meat slaughtering industry, as it exists nowadays, is an ugly mess. This should not come as a surprise. Even if these procedures were cleaned up, there's still so much that is horribly wrong about the way in which animals are raised, slaughtered, and consumed in most of the world.

chicken carcassesUSDA/Public Domain

Use-by dates are only a small part of the picture, when you consider other problems like cramped, filthy conditions, rampant disease, mandatory chlorine baths for carcasses, and the excessive use of antibiotics that threatens the future of human health. Worth considering, too, is that European food regulations are much stricter that U.S. ones, so it's fairly safe to assume problems are even more serious on this side of the Atlantic.

You get what you pay for, I've always believed; and if you're buying cheap chicken pieces for mere dollars a pound, from an untraceable farm and factory, don't expect that meat to be anything less than questionable, even at the best of times.

Tags: Animals | Animal Welfare | Food Safety | Food Security | United Kingdom

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