Meat meant for dog food is believed to found its way into the human food chain in an "industrial-scale" fraud carried out in Northern Ireland, according to a government report.
According to The Elliott Review, an independent review of Britain's food system in light of the recent horse meat fraud, prepared by Queen's University's professor Chris Elliott, the fraud came to light in 2005 (See: Irish company kept discovery of horse meat in beef secret).
However, due to a lack of what it said was an "investigative resource", it was not pursued.
The report found that the potential profit on 1,000 tonnes of meat was in the region of £3 million.
The study made a series of recommendations about ways in which food fraud could be prevented.
It said UK customers had "access to perhaps the safest food in the world", but called on the government to consider a new food crime unit to help prevent a repeat of the horse meat scandal earlier this year.
The report was silent about the location of the place in Northern Ireland where the so-called "Category 3 meat" was found, but it was located after officials traced a suspicious container that had arrived in Northern Ireland from Asia.
That led to a follow-up operation at an unnamed cold store, which led to the involvement of the police and the discovery of an industrial shrink-wrapping machine as also forged veterinary documents.
According to the report, it became evident "that the primary business of the cold store was repacking and re-labelling as fit for human consumption Cat 3 ABP meat".
Category 3 ABP meat has been defined by government as meat that had been passed as fit for human consumption but which was not intended to be eaten, as it might include hides, hair, feathers and bones.
The interim report of the Elliott Review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks suggests, ''a systems-based approach to tackling food fraud, recommending a system where:
- industry, government and enforcement agencies always put the needs of consumers above all other considerations; this means giving food safety and crime prevention absolute priority over other objectives
- there is zero tolerance for food fraud, so minor dishonesties are discouraged and the response to major dishonesties is punitive
- there is a shared investment between government and industry in intelligence gathering and sharing, whilst having due regard to the sensitivities of the market
- those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services that use standardised, validated methodologies
- industry and regulators give weight to audit and assurance regimes, so as to allow credit where it is due; but also try to minimise duplication where possible
- government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks is kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART)
- there is clear leadership and coordination of investigations and prosecutions; and the public interest is recognised in active enforcement and significant penalties for significant food crimes
- when a serious incident occurs the necessary mechanisms are in place so that regulators and industry can deal with it effectively''