Crying Fowl over Food; Thinking of a Plate of Chicken and Chips for Dinner? Then Don't Watch a TV Special Which Highlights Serious Problems in the Poultry Industry. PAUL ENGLISH Reports

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Byline: PAUL ENGLISH

MEAT eaters be warned - reading this article could seriously damage your appetite.

While most of us wouldn't have cause to doubt the quality of meat served up to us in restaurants or at the supermarket, BBC1's Life of Grime Special could be about to change all that.

The investigative series - which quite literally digs the sort of dirt which most other expose programmes wouldn't touch with a sterile barge pole - returns to our screens to report on some of the most gruesome real-life tales in a special three parter on pets, food standards and vermin.

And if what you're about to read doesn't make you run to the freezer and throw out anything you once thought to be a pack of four chicken breasts, then it may at least make you question the blind trust you invest in your favourite restaurant.

The second programme of the series, which starts this week, features the findings of an investigation led by environmental health officer Lewis Coates of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.

Grime producer/director Tuppence Stone explains: "The council's investigation was extensive and spanned several years in the mid-'90s, but what the programme centres on is what happened to some of the meat involved before it ended up re- entering the human food chain.

The investigation begins back at the chicken slaughterhouse, where any carcasses deemed unfit for human consumption are put in a skip and considered for use as pet food.

"The skip will then be picked up by a pet food rendering company, and sorted through to see which meat conforms to the pet food standards," says Tuppence.

Current legal loopholes make it easy for condemned poultry to slip back into the food chain un-noticed.

Any other meat deemed unsuitable for human consumption must be marked with indelible dye to prevent it passing back into our food chain.

In 1996, when the investigation was carried out, the law at the time - which has now been tightened - allowed these by-products to be stored in piles by the rendering company before being frozen into blocks which were sold on to pet food manufacturers.

However, some of the poultry never made it into the animal food chain - and may well have wound its way back on to the shelves of supermarkets posing as fresh meat.

The company at the centre of the investigation, Wells By-Products, which has since come under new management, was found to be selling unfit meat back into the human food chain.

"Very simply, the pet food rendering company sold the meat to a poultry meat company, who then sold it back into the human food chain," says Tuppence.

"What they were doing is bathing this meat in salt and bleach, cutting out any tumours and signs of blemishes, then selling it.

"People were convicted on the evidence of the investigation, but what they did really is horrendous.

"I'm practically vegetarian now, and I follow Lewis' advice never to buy anything other than an entire chicken. That way you know for sure that it hasn't been cut down, which is when it becomes difficult to tell."

Horrifyingly, the findings suggest that scams of this sort are still being run throughout the country.

"Lewis maintains that when they've finished with it, no one, not you, I nor a top chef would know the difference from looking at the poultry. And when you consider that around 200 people a year die of food poisoning, it makes you wonder. …