So, were you as horrified and disgusted as we were at the latest undercover report from ITV and the Guardian about the 2 Sisters Food Group’s horrific chicken processing practices?
Were you surprised by it? Because I wasn’t. This is just more of the same. The 2 Sisters Group was prosecuted in 2013 for fiddling dates and ignoring legal notices they were served with. From where I’m standing, it just goes to show that 2 Sisters, like the supermarkets it serves, is just another leopard that has no intention of changing its spots.
First of all, let’s take a look back at what happened in 2013. 2 Sisters fell foul of the law then by:
- Extending the shelf life of products by four days longer than allowed
- Ignoring legal notices served to them by food hygiene officers
- Failing to have a suitable food safety management safety system
- And failing to provide production records
This food group, which made profits in excess of £90 million last year, was fined the paltry (should that be poultry?) sum of £112,500 for putting public health at risk. That’s what I call chicken feed. It’s chump change to a company worth billions.
The company’s spokeman said they ‘deeply regretted’ the offences. Then they went on to say it ‘stemmed from a disagreement about shelf life, miscommunication and resulted in procedural oversights’.
Really? How do you justify breaking the law as a procedural oversight? If I ever go off and rob a bank, I must remember that defence. I’m sorry M’Lud… I didn’t mean to. It was a procedural oversight.
If you’ve missed it, this recent undercover investigation found that 2 Sisters were breaching the food hygiene regulations once again. Filming with hidden cameras, reporters filmed evidence of:
- Hygiene regulation breaches
- Kill dates blatantly changed
- Unsold meat repacked and returned to the food chain with newer dates
2 Sisters supplies one third of all the poultry products we eat here in the UK. It processes six million chickens each week, supplying Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Sainsburys and The Co-op. Where do you buy your chicken?
The dramatic report describes, at length, the poor working conditions. Of staff being paid minimum wage for doing physically demanding, unpleasant work. Of short tempers and bullying on the production line. But in my opinion, while that sort of dramatic detail might make for good reporting, increased readership and viewer ratings, it has little to do with the issue. Nobody ever said a huge food production plant, employing a largely unskilled workforce, was a pleasant working environment.
If those conditions horrify us, then it’s time we took a long hard look at what we can do to change it. Because we’re the only ones who can. The whole time we, the consumers, expect and demand cheap food, these problems aren’t going to go away. Greed and the drive for increased profits exacerbates the matter. Yes, chicken and other meat that’s ethically reared and produced is going to cost more. And that’s why we MUST be prepared to pay for it.
Of course, meat or food production doesn’t have to be like that. Compare this footage by the BBC to the secret film shot at the 2 Sisters’ plant. It was filmed at the Cargill poultry plant in Hereford in 2015. This operation employs 2,000 people and processes 1.6 million chickens a week without putting people’s health at risk.
But the real issue here is that 2 Sisters, a major food production company, has absolutely zero regard for our health and the public’s safety. Presumably all this is just another procedural oversight. They’ve done it before and got off lightly. So they clearly condone these potentially dangerous practices – all because it increases their profits. Forget about the risk to health and people’s lives from things like Campylobacter and Botulism.
Wondering what the 2 Sisters Group’s response was? Well, they described the allegations as ‘broad’ and said they took them ‘extremely seriously’. How seriously is that? As seriously as they took their prosecution in 2013? They said that ‘hygiene and food safety will always be the number one priority within the business’ until they have another ‘misunderstanding’ and a few more ‘procedural oversights’, that is.
Of course, we must remember it’s the 2 Sisters press or media office doing the fire fighting on this. No doubt they’re in a plush office countless miles away from the food production plant. No doubt the PR officer wouldn’t know a chicken’s fillet from its parson’s nose. They’re in the business of damage limitation and platitudes. And I bet they don’t buy chicken processed by their employer.
So they smugly trot out the fact that the company undergoes ‘multiple and frequent unannounced audits’. Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it? No, actually. It isn’t. How unannounced is an unannounced audit?
Think about it. How long does it take an inspector to get from the reception area of a huge manufacturing plant to the shop floor? Let’s assume the receptionist has to locate and summons a manager to accompany them. Let’s also assume said inspector has to sign in, be given protective clothing and a place to change, and then get to the inspection area.
All businesses have jungle telegraph. From the minute that inspector steps through the door, everyone will be on red alert. By the time they get to the shop floor, every misdeed will be well and truly hidden from sight and the game faces will be on.
I’m not just being cynical. That’s life. How many of us can say, hand on heart, that we’ve never done anything we shouldn’t at work. How many times have you been texting a friend, or logged into Facebook on your phone. We’ve all done it. If you see or hear the boss coming, that phone disappears as if by magic. If you’re tech savvy, you might have software on your PC that immediately hides all those illicit websites you’ve been browsing. It’s no different… it’s just on a more serious scale. Messaging your bestie on Facebook or eBay shopping in the firm’s time isn’t going to land your employer in court, or cost lives with a major food poisoning outbreak.
The bottom line here is inspections and audits can only do so much and frankly, it’s not enough. The only way these companies are going to be stopped from breaking the law and putting our lives at risk is if they are properly penalised. Fines need to hit them hard, not just be something they can pay out of petty cash.
Like those involved in the horse meat scandal, the 2 Sisters’ people instigating these practices have to face prosecution and prison sentences if they break the law. They are criminals – food poisoning is dangerous and can kill. Isn’t that what the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 is all about?
Finally, we have to play our part too. Don’t just be horrified at these scandals. Let’s do something about it. If we boycott supermarket chicken and shop at our local butchers instead, we’ll kick 2 Sisters right where it hurts – in the profits.