A Northern Irish meat processor that supplies the multiples has been found to have mislabelled Brazilian beef in a clear contravention of the regulations, according to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Dunbia Dungannon, part of the Dunbia Group, was accused by three former employees of mislabelling Brazilian beef as British. Representing the former employees, the TGWU indicated in a submission to the investigation that they may have evidence that Brazilian beef had been labelled as UK origin for a considerable period, the DARD report said. This was despite quarterly inspections of Dunbia by DARD, which had not revealed any wrongdoing. 

The ensuing investigation revealed Dunbia mixed over 1.9t of Brazilian beef with British in what was described by DARD as “a clear contravention of the Beef Labelling [Enforcement] Regulations [NI] 2001”. Dunbia admitted to investigators that on one occasion 1.9t of beef had been mislabelled, but said it was by mistake and an isolated incident.

In a letter to DARD on 6 June 2007, Dunbia Dungannon MD, Kenny Swann, said: “Dunbia has invested heavily in traceability systems and procedures [which] are subject to audit by DARD and to regular rigorous, transparent and random examination by our customers and external auditors.” In the letter Swann also suggested some employees had “a separate agenda”, and that the mislabelling incident may have been deliberately contrived.

“This is the only incident in the company’s many years of accurately processing thousands of tonnes of imported meat,” he added. 

In the investigation, the former employees (all of whom had been made redundant), provided witness statements. One claimed to have “witnessed Brazilian beef coming in and then being processed and labelled/packed as British. I raised concerns about these issues with management, but I was either ignored or told to get on with it and was also informed [by a manager] that if I didn’t like it he’d get someone else to do it.” 

The report stated: “Despite the fact the ex-employees of Dunbia are obviously aggrieved at the company, I am satisfied most of [their] information is accurate and more than likely indicative of the practices carried out within Dunbia over the period these people were employed.” But the report also said the evidence was very general and vague and that “these workers allegedly carried on undertaking these practices over a substantial period, despite now saying they knew it was wrong to do so. 

“From a defence point of view, it would be the perfect opportunity to discredit them in court.” 

It is also not clear what opportunity Dunbia was given to challenge or respond to the allegations. The report, obtained by The Grocer after a Freedom of Information request, concluded: “From a prosecution point of view there is no scope for DARD to pursue the beef labelling offence as it is outside the six month statutory time limit.” 

The inspector recommended a warning letter be sent to Dunbia about the 1.9t of mislabelled Brazilian beef.