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Gloucestershire Business News

Alert over fake free-range chicken

A Gloucestershire poultry supplier has said it is "hardly surprised" over news that food watchdogs are investigating criminal misrepresentation in the industry.

As the county's poultry sector prepares for its busiest period of activity in the calendar, the industry has been warned to take a closer look at its supply chains in the wake of a probe by the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU).

The NCFU, which was created in 2015 in the wake of the 2013 horse meat scandal, is now acting over reports that one unnamed poultry company has been passing off housed chickens as "free-range".

Farmer's Weekly reports that its ongoing investigation has found "housed birds and free-range birds are being mixed at separate, but linked, locations before being submitted for slaughter".

Potential food safety breaches are also being looked into at the same supplier, with the NFCU, which has now sent alerts to stakeholders in the poultry industry, currently handing these "based on risk".

But the alert has stirred immediate criticism within the industry for failing to name the supplier under investigation. A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (Aims) said the action was "step in the right direction", but now "casts a shadow over the entire industry". He called for batch numbers of chicken in question to be made public, as well as details of the period of concern.

However, spoke to an organic chicken farmer in the Cotswolds today who said they felt that the industry was not under-regulated.

The supplier, who asked not to be named, said: "We have enough regulation and the rules are clear, but we are hardly surprised at this news today. It seems to be basic human nature for people to be tempted to cut corners, perhaps more than ever in the current climate when labour and feed costs squeeze productivity and eat your profit margins."

They added: "The alert is not good in the way it has been issued. It does cast a shadow over the industry."

Current non-free-range poultry rearing times are from five weeks (35 days) from hatching to slaughter, while free-range rearing techniques can allow for 25% more ageing of birds.

Compassion in World Farming says free-range broilers "will usually be slaughtered at eight weeks old and organic broilers at around 12 weeks old".

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