Butcher gets the chop over foie gras scandal

 

Selfridges in London has parted company with its "celebrity" butcher Jack O'Shea after he was caught using a codeword to sell banned foie gras to customers under the counter.

The store announced that Mr O'Shea, who supplies many leading London restaurants and is widely regarded as one of the finest butchers around, finished trading there on Thursday.

Selfridges banned the sale of foie gras in 2009 under intense pressure from animal rights acitivists, led by the former James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore.

Production of the foodstuff, made from goose livers that have become enlarged through force-feeding, is banned in the UK, but many retailers still stock it. Mr O'Shea's knowing customers had been asking him for "French fillet" until a customer spotted what was going on and complained. Packets of the delicacy weighing 795g were being sold for £39.40.

A member of Selfridges staff admitted to an undercover reporter attempting to buy the product that it was against Selfridges policy and that they "only get it in at Christmas time".

Mr O'Shea was eventually led out of the shop on Christmas Eve, in front of customers. Campaigners who had fought hard for Selfridges to impose the ban accused him of a "shocking betrayal".

Mr O'Shea had received a stern warning at the time, but the retailer has cited several further reasons why his contract has now been terminated.

Among them were "risks of cross-contamination between raw and cooked meat, issues around labelling and sell-by dates, inconsistent and failing food handling procedures and failing housekeeping standards".

A spokesman for Selfridges said the store had been working closely with Mr O'Shea to address these issues since October last year, two months before the foie gras incident came to light. A programme had been designed to address the "particular failings" of Mr O'Shea's business within Selfridges, "to meet the food hall's own standards".

Mr O'Shea has had a stall in the Selfridges food hall since November 2008 and has sold to more than 200,000 customers. But the programme evidently did not succeed.

Ewan Venters, Director of Food & Restaurants for Selfridges, said: "It is regrettable that we had to part company with Jack O'Shea. But if anyone puts the store's five-star health rating in jeopardy, they can no longer be part of our business – it is as simple as that."

Mr O'Shea, who also has a shop in Brussels, could not be reached for comment last night, but he is unlikely to have been surprised by the news.

When he was removed from the store on Christmas Eve he remained defiant. "I will probably lose my business over it but I couldn't give a damn. My conscience is clear," he said. "Stuffing a goose with grain is like stuffing me with Guinness. It has been totally blown out of proportion."

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