Spain’s law enforcement agency the Guardia Civil arrested 16 people in two unconnected operations in May as the force clamped down on criminality in the meat supply chain.
Not-for-profit organisation ANICE, however, says crime is rare. And a company representative has even accused the Guardia Civil of creating an impression that meat crime is an issue, when in fact it is “not a big deal at all”.
ANICE secretary Miguel Huerta outlined the organisation’s position in an email to this site, commenting on what, from an outsider’s perspective, looks like rising levels of meat crime in Spain.
Meat companies ‘under pressure’
“Irregularities in the meat sector are extremely rare,” Huerta said.
“Notwithstanding, in order to ensure compliance on behalf of companies in the sector, ANICE is performing a study to verify that labelling is adapted to product content through PCR [polymerase chain reaction] analysis. We are analysing random samples of products such as ground beef, burger meat, meatballs and lasagna.”
Results from this test should be available soon, Huerta said. ANICE has not found any traces of mislabelled meat either, reinforcing its position on the infrequency of such cases.
But there is always a reason behind crime. Spain has a high unemployment rate and its economy has been shaky since the 2008 financial crisis, so do the two cases of meat crime in one month suggest Spanish meat companies are under increasing pressure?
“The meat industry – and food companies in general – are under pressure from large retail companies to provide low-cost consumer products,” added Huerta.
“This is not a justification for non-compliance, but it should cause certain links in the food chain to consider the need to put quality and product guarantees before price constraints, which may endanger the sustainability of the entire meat chain.”
Multiple cases of alleged criminality
Guardia Civil could not be reached to comment on whether meat crime is rising nationally, or whether its reports of crime create a distorted picture of the industry.
The first case involved food fraud, with an unnamed company facing allegations of bulking up its beef burgers with bread and/or fat. So far, 14 people have been arrested in this investigation.
The second case saw undercover officers raid a clandestine warehouse storing possibly unrefrigerated meat next to dead birds and mice. Guardia Civil claimed the beef, lamb and chicken were sold to butchers of North African descent, based in southern Madrid. Two people have been arrested.