/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Pork and chicken – what else is in your lamb curry?

Yesterday, trading standards officers revealed that of the lamb curries and kebabs they bought from takeaway restaurants, very few contained just lamb. Most contained other cheaper meats, and some no lamb at all!

The trading standard officers visited 20 restaurants and takeaways in the Midlands, from which they bought 39 lamb curries and kebabs. They then tested these samples to see what meat was in them.

Four of the curries contained no lamb at all, with the meat instead made up of a mixture of pork, beef or chicken – all of which were cheaper cuts of meat.

None of the 20 lamb kebabs contained just lamb, with other meats in there as well. Only three of the 19 curries tested contained only lamb.

The history of food fraud

Not only could people of certain faiths unwillingly eat meat they’re not supposed to, but everyone else is paying for something they think they’ll get, when they’ll actually be getting a cheaper product in return.

This is food fraud and it’s been going on for years. In Victorian times bread was adulterated with chalk (to make it more white), potato flour (cheaper than wheat flour) and alum, all of which helped the breadmaker use inferior quality flour.

There were even cases of bakers mixing dough with plaster to make their bread heavier, and confectioners using poisonous lead and mercury salts to make their sweets brightly coloured and more attractive.

And while these are no longer a problem, it’s clear from this latest research that there are still many unscrupulous traders happy to con us.

And it’s not just takeaways

Several trading standards officers have told me about fake booze they’ve seized – less serious cases include a customer buying a bottle of whisky and getting home to realise it was filled with apple juice. And then there are the dangerous examples, such as counterfeit vodka containing high levels of methanol (used in antifreeze) which can lead to blindness.

You might think that, since you don’t eat local takeaways or buy cheap alcohol, you won’t be affected. But food fraud isn’t just restricted to cheaper products. In past testing the Food Standards Agency has found bags of basmati rice with a mix of basmati rice and other cheaper varieties of rice.

And last year, a study by the US consumer organisation Consumer Reports revealed that one in five fish was mislabelled in shops and restaurants, where often more expensive varieties were replaced with cheaper ones.

So, how can we trust the food we buy if it’s sometimes not what it says on the tin?


Shefalee is right to point out examples of our long and amazing history of food adulteration.

Being given pork and chicken instead of lamb or the wrong kind of rice would worry me less than the appalling standards of hygiene and and use of food unfit for human consumption, which have frequently been reported in documentaries.

I cannot say that I am surprised by this report and I feel sorry for those who run their restaurants and takeaways honestly and hygienically.

The thing that most horrifies me about this is the fact that many people, for religious reasons, just can’t eat things like pork or beef. There’s a whole world of difference between padding out a takeaway with more veg/potato, and actually substituting some meat for others.

I love a lamb korma, but I’m going to be extra-careful from now on and see if I can taste anything unusual.

ricky says:
3 May 2012

Its not true that for religious reasons many people “cannot eat pork or beef” its just that they have been indoctrinated to believe that their God disapproves of one meat or the other.
Actual physical intorence to some food is something else entirely.
As far as I know lamb in Indian restauarants is often goat, which in my opinion is an excellent meat though not normally sold in the UK food stores.

That’s quite a specific point about language! Obviously I’m not implying that people are physically incapable of eating it, but I think it is extremely important to consider other people’s beliefs, even if you don’t subscribe to them yourself. In the same way as I’d be horrified to find meat in something labelled ‘vegetarian’ I’d be horrified to know that friends I have who are Jewish have unknowingly eaten pork, for example. Especially if it’s a cost-cutting measure on the part of the restaurant, as it seems to be, rather than a genuine mistake.

Bob S says:
3 May 2012

With regard to the comments so far, it seems members are forgetting the essential point here that the public is simply being cheated by the traders. (It is NOT about traders’ hygiene or the consumers’ religious or other quirks). Of course, the enforcing authorities do have to have regard to (1) the degree, or seriousness, of each offence of trader cheating and (2) to the question of public interest and the costs before launching a prosecution under the Food and Drugs Acts or the Trade Descriptions Act, However it does seem that there is an awful lot of cheating about – both overt and covert! Consumer confidence in the food industry’s integrity seems justifiably sceptical and
this should be regarded as a serious matter by the public.

I completely agree, Bob, but we live in a world where cheating consumers is the norm and has a particularly long history in the case of food adulteration. I would love if all the cheats could be fined or put out of business, but I don’t see this happening any time soon.

Eating the wrong meat is not going to make me ill, whereas poor hygiene could. That is why food hygiene is my priority. If Trading Standards was funded by fines then it could have the resources to tackle the cheating traders.

Dont know about the ill bit, whatever I ate in that kebab roll in London was certainly not lamb, and made me as sick as the dog it probably was.
And the vendors had the cheek to put a Halal sign in the window!
If TSO wont act, how about the religious police stepping in?

[Hi M., we’ve made a small edit to your comment for libel reasons. Thanks, mods.]


Religious police in Britain?!… in countries that have, intercede
principally as to infringements of Sharia (law).

Nah… wdn’t myself eat greasy cuts from such big blob of compacted minced
meat on a takeaway that are often manufactured and purchased from a
central depot or warehouse.

In upmarket Turkish restaurants, chefs may lovingly prepare
stuff themselves with authentic proper meat (may throw in offal though)
that I had a positive experience of consuming, but
just once, as a dinner guest.

If claiming dodgy/ doggy meat is Halal isn’t breaking Sharia law, then I don’t know what is!
Anyway it was a tongue in cheek comment [ouch].
My mistake, for eating that take away when I could have bought a couple of apples instead.

Speaking of Turkish restaurants, there is one I do frequent, I now know the chefs routine and go when he is ‘practising’ new dishes. He will lovingly cook something then bring it to my table for a taste test & feedback, or else he will be training some of the others and asks me what I think of their attempt at such and such a dish. I do make a token order which I inevitably take home, as by the time I have finished I am well and truly stuffed…


Agree… for a Muslim knowingly/intentionally to eat pork is against Sharia
and deemed a serious transgression. [I have a friend, however, a born Muslim
with English wife, who freely eats pork but he’s a non-believer, a non
-conformist, he says].

[Arguably mosque elders cd step in, in cases of Muslims KNOWINGLY
purveying pork to fellow Muslims which injunction issued if any, wd have
at best, a persuasive effect on offending seller IMO].

You’re not alone, that ex-home secretary girl Smith liked kebab
takeaways too.

Personally don’t like to eat anything processed whose meat origins I
can’t clearly account for, even if identifiable, including sausages.
both British, Spanish or from wherever….put in another way, very
rarely eat ’em at all.

What what missing from the article is any mention of the action ( or lack of it) being taken by the TSO to deal with this issue.
Or are they saying that no laws or regs are being broken ??

Was at London Chinatown recently, was rather surprised to find
all-you-can-eat buffet type lunch on offer at just £4.95
including proteins quite likely to be MRM if not something
even cheaper or more inferior!

Quality more than quantity matters, wd rather pay £7.85 for a
plate of delicious roast duck on rice with a pot of hot jasmine tea
thrown in gratis.

Quite apart from dietary/religious concerns, substituting
cheaper inferior stuff is clearly FRAUD as to which
the buying public have a justifiable right to complain and
what’s more,TSO must investigate AND bring a prosecution
where appropriate. They already do as to unhygienic

Food adulteration is going on all the time, a conviction
AND both naming and shaming shall hopefully serve as
an effective deterrent and, of course, in the public

I remember Indian restaurants that offered some ‘meat’ curries and other dishes. I’d prefer to know whether it was lamb, beef, chicken, dog or cat. 🙂

Commonly refer to beef or lamb but best seek clarification.

Mike says:
27 May 2012

SHEFALEE…..Don’t rely on TSO, they ring the retailer 3 wks in advance of a visit giving them time to clean up their act and , of course, make life more tolerable for themselves. Lots fewer prosecutions is the result. For the good they do we’d be better off without them.

Matthew Parish says:
17 April 2014

What has been over looked possibly with regards to this issue is where restaurants and takeaways are substituting lamb with mutton in dishes as there is a significant cost saving. But restaurants, particularly indian restaurants, believe this is ethically and legally ok as it is the same species and the difference is a mere ‘technicality’. Having worked closely with indian restaurants they have made it very clear to me that almost all of them use mutton where lamb is quoted on menu’s.
A previous contributor mentioned the use of the term ‘meat’ curry on menu’s and again, where ever this appears invariably the meat used is mutton.
When quizzed on the reason why the restaurants do this they all say the same – mutton is much cheaper, but no one would buy a product marked as ‘mutton’.
Although not an expert in DNA research, I suspect the use of mutton has been overlooked because the DNA between Mutton and Lamb is very similar – I am sure someone else will be able to clarify this fact.

Unless something has changed, lamb and mutton just refer to young and old animals, respectively, so DNA analysis will not distinguish between them.

Matthew Parish says:
17 April 2014

That does re-enforce my point really. Legally mutton, from a trading standards view point, is a different product to lamb and should be identified as such to consumers via menus etc. I guess my point is that Lamb Fraud is actually a far wider issue than this survey would suggest.

Without a suitable test, it is likely to be difficult to police this, Matthew. Perhaps it is better to start by tackling the food substitution problems that are easy to demonstrate.

Another example of food substitution that is difficult to detect is genetically manipulated soya. The test is not sensitive and unscrupulous companies take advantage of this.

Foodtaster says:
17 April 2014

In Feb I bought a pack of Chicken Tikka Masala (Mumtaz Foods) from my local Booths supermarket. The meat in it was poor, dry, fibrous, not succulent marinated breast as promised, no chicken flavour, some of the cubes were crunchy on the outside, quite dehydrated and some pieces had an uncharacteristic flavour and colour suggesting another meat type than chicken. As advised on the packet I returned the sleeve to Mumtaz Foods with a letter voicing my concerns. I have never had any reply. Your article on food fraud has reminded me of my concern.

Had you also contacted Booths about the product? They should have examined all the other packs on sale and gone back along the food chain to protect other customers. They would no doubt have given you your money back as well which is more than I expect you’ll get from the manufacturer.

I’d really like to know what to do about it. Two restaurants in the last month served me a curry that should have been lamb but wasn’t. The first was a meat I’ve never tasted before and that bothers me in particular, while the second served beef. I like a lamb curry and I don’t want beef or anything else.

Like others, I’d rather pay more and get the right food. For now all I can do is avoid restaurants that lie to me.

Who should I report these restaurants to, please?