Cane rats and “shocking” quantities of illegal and “potentially unsafe” meat have been sold to the public in east London, a BBC London undercover investigation has found.Secret filming in one of the capital’s busiest food markets has revealed butchers and food stores prepared to sell large quantities of meat that breaks food safety laws.
West African and environmental health officer sources told the BBC the Ridley Road Market, in Dalston, was a known hotbed of illicit meat activity, including sales of illegal “smokies”, a delicacy made by charring sheep or goat with a blow torch.
Yet a Freedom of Information request to Hackney Council reveals the last enforcement visits to premises concerning illegal meat in the whole borough took place in 2009.
“This is shocking, I am just so shocked to see so much of it,” said Paul Povey, one of the UK’s leading experts in meat hygiene and inspections and a member of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, who examined the meat for the BBC.
“It’s all illegal and hasn’t undergone health control, hasn’t been inspected and may well be contaminated.
“You’ve got to wonder about the contamination level of this meat that anyone’s bringing into their kitchens.”
Hackney Council said it had only received one complaint of illegal meat being sold since 2009 which was not proven.
‘There will be trouble’
The practice of creating “smokies” is outlawed under UK and European food laws amid fears about public safety and animal welfare.
It has also been linked to mafia-style gangs in Wales who steal sheep and goats, slaughtering them in unlicensed abattoirs.
Dr Yunes Teinaz, a chartered environmental health practitioner, said: “Behind the underground trade in smokies are criminals who don’t observe the law and are just after financial gain.
“It is disgusting and outrageous that the local authorities don’t take action and remove this meat from the human food chain.”
One Hackney butcher, who was secretly filmed selling a BBC researcher quantities of the illicit meat, said: “Don’t tell anyone, otherwise there will be trouble.”
Two African food stores have sold bush meat such as “grass cutter” or cane rats, which are described as having been imported from Ghana where they are a delicacy.
‘Collapsing a business’
The trade in bush meat is a persistent problem for the UK authorities with illegal meat products smuggled in by passengers in ferry terminals and airports.
The Food Standards Agency says there are worries that bush meat could be of serious risk to both those who eat it and to others from contamination.
There is no suggestion that every butcher and food shop on the Ridley Road Market is prepared to deal in illegal meat.
Confronted with BBC London’s evidence, Islam Halal Meat; Punjab Halal Meat and Fish and Dalston Butchers denied they were selling illegal meat.
The manager of Great Expectations, a food store which sold two Ghanaian rats to the undercover BBC researcher, said: “I don’t sell rats, I never sell rats, I don’t sell rats.
“I don’t have any rats, why you come to video me?”
The manager of Adom Trading, another shop that sold bush meat described as a Ghanaian “grass cutter” rat, also denied selling it.
“What you are saying is a lie, a 100% lie, I don’t sell rats.
“You are collapsing a business, do you know how much it costs us to pay the business rates?”
Councillor Feryal Demirci, Hackney Council’s Cabinet Member for Safer Neighbourhoods, said: “Hackney Council’s team of Environmental Health Officers make regular visits and inspections of over 1,000 businesses across the borough, including those on Ridley Road.
“Since 2009, we have only received a single complaint regarding the sale of illegal meat, which upon investigation was inconclusive.
“However, we take all complaints seriously and we will always investigate fully. Now that we have received some information from the BBC we will look into this and take the appropriate action.”