Shops selling beef dressedas lamb

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Shoppers are being sold beef dressed up as lamb in the wake of the BSE scare, environmental health officers have discovered, and the Government was yesterday urged to help fund a nationwide survey of meat products.

Council officers from the Borough of Hounslow in west London found packets of lamb mince which included up to 10 per cent beef during a four-month investigation of butchers' shops and supermarkets, according to a report released yesterday. Out of ten packets of lamb mince bought by investigators, six were found by scientists to contain between 2 per cent and 10 per cent beef.

The borough mounted the checks, which were carried out between April and July, because inspectors were concerned that suppliers, hit by falling beef prices as a result of the BSE scare, might be putting hard-to-sell beef into other meat products, misleading customers who wanted to avoid buying beef. Sales have slumped by up to 50 per cent due to the BSE crisis.

Councillor Bob Whatley, chair of Hounslow's environmental services, said: "We feel there needs to be a nationwide investigation to see how widespread the problem is."

In a separate investigation in Bath, Avon, trading standards officials collected samples of fresh lamb mince and found that some contained more than five per cent beef.

One "rogue" batch came from a major supermarket chain but trading standard officers refused to name the chain pending further investigations.

A Hounslow council spokeswoman said that more cases of beef being sold as lamb could be found - but at pounds 200 for each test the procedure was expensive. She added: "We would like the Government to offer help to local authorities to allow a nationwide survey to take place. We are convinced that beef is finding its way into other meat products."

Hounslow's investigations are continuing, to find out where the rogue beef mince came from and why such large quantities of it were contained in the packs of lamb mince. One local butcher has already admitted he had not cleaned his mincer properly after mincing beef, and has been cautioned.

Angela Browning, the food minister, insisted: "At first sight, [the investigation] does not require a Government scheme," adding that any inspection would be for trading standards officers to carry out.

Mrs Browning was in south London visiting the 8,000th independent butcher to sign up to a Meat and Livestock Commission guarantee scheme for minced beef, which was launched to boost confidence as a result of the BSE scare. She said beef and lamb were mixed because mincing machines were not properly cleaned.

Mr Alan Street, chief executive of the Institute of Trading Standards, said every authority had a duty to enforce the law, but that testing was expensive. He supported the setting up of a government-run food agency to distribute funds for a specific testing programme.