/ Food & Drink

What’s really in your lamb takeaway?

Food fraud

Our most recent investigation found 40% of lamb takeaways had been contaminated with other meats, with some containing no lamb at all. Shouldn’t we be able to trust the food we buy is what it says it is?

Today we launch our Stop Food Fraud campaign, prompted by our investigation into adulteration of lamb takeaways.

We want the Government, local authorities and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to take action so that we can trust the food we buy.

Our lamb takeaway tests

We bought 60 lamb takeaways in Birmingham and London (15 curries and 15 minced lamb kebabs in each location) and sent them to a lab to be analysed. We tested for the presence of lamb, chicken, beef, pork, turkey, goat and horse DNA.

Out of 60 samples, 24 were adulterated: 17 contained lamb with beef and/or chicken, and seven contained no lamb at all.

A few local authorities have carried out the same testing and found similar results. The reason for the adulteration is that both beef and chicken are cheaper than lamb. Therefore, by substituting them in place of lamb the restaurant can offer the product at a lower price or make significant savings.

I don’t eat lamb or beef but if I ordered a lamb takeaway and was instead given beef I’d be annoyed. As would many of my family who are Hindu so don’t eat beef for religious reasons.

Other commonly faked foods

We know that food fraud is not limited to lamb – last year horsemeat was found in our foods and experts say that most food is susceptible to fraud.

The biggest food fraud problem in the UK, and most likely worldwide, is counterfeit alcohol – including wine, vodka and Scotch whisky. Whereas substituting lamb for chicken might not be harmful to your physical health, counterfeit alcohol can be. Fake vodka has been found to contain a chemical found in antifreeze and methanol which can be fatal.

Other commonly adulterated foods include olive oil, fish, Basmati rice, honey, cheese and organic food.

The Government, local authorities and the FSA need to make tackling food fraud a priority and take tougher action to crack down on the offenders. This is vital to restoring trust in the industry.

You can help by signing our Stop Food Fraud petition – your signature will help push food fraud up the agenda and ensure action is taken.


I’m a sceptic when it comes to take-aways – full of mistrust. When I see 300 dishes on our local Chinese menu I have to wonder at the way they are supplied and produced. We generally buy food from places we can trust; our take-aways are generally meals from M&S or Waitrose or fish and chips. I’m sure we miss out on some of life’s great experiences.
As far as enforcement is concerned, we seem very lenient with standards of hygiene in restaurants and take-aways – warnings when standards may be abysmal from the spate of TV documentaries, if they are representative. I would close a premises until proper hygiene could be reliably established, and do the same if they served food not of the appropriate quality. That might be an incentive to trade properly. But I doubt if there are anything like the resources available to test the authenticity of food on the scale required.


Food substitution must be treated as fraud and the offenders punished. The only complication is that affected ingredients could have been purchased in good faith. If the Which? investigation is representative, this indicates that the problem is out of control and effective action is urgently needed.

I am far more concerned about food hygiene. Food poisoning is usually just unpleasant but can be much more serious. Premises should be subject to annual inspections and required to display their food hygiene rating, as is compulsory in Wales.

I feel sorry for the owners and staff of takeaways where customers are treated honestly and food is handled safely.


All this does is re-enforce my believe that I can’t trust takeaways and therefore I don’t use them.

I’d certainly be interested to see the receipts for the raw ingredients to see whether this is deliberate on the part of the takeaway, or the supplier(s).

And like wavechange says, its should be law to display your food rating in the whole of the UK. I can’t see a good reason for why it isn’t already, And maybe the rating should include an element of the correct ingredients being used. Maybe by adjusting the rating by the %age of questionable ingredients used. So if 50% of products bought don’t have the correct ingredients then the rating is reduced by 50%.


I’ve heard that imported ground almond can be adulterated with ground peanut (because it’s cheaper) – not good for people with peanut allergies.


Environmental health officers undertake the food safety inspections and do not concern themselves with the contents of the menu so long as they are stored and prepared hygienically. Trading standards officers enforce the selling of goods and the prevention of fraud through misdescription; they probably do not inspect restaurants and takeaways routinely and only visit if a complaint is raised. I suspect the police have an anti-fraud role too if they choose to exercise it but they probably prefer to leave it to TSO’s. Both local authority inspection regimes have a track record of acting like lambs and need to beef up their roles in protecting the public. Like Wavechange, I think the hygiene issue is the higher priority but a few prosecutions for mis-labelling wouldn’t go amiss. The temptation to sell the wong meat in disguise by being covered in curry sauce or mashed-up in a kebab is obviously quite powerful in today’s competitive market, especially when the patrons of such outlets are generally disinclined to complain or are incapable of noticing if something is wrong.

Trading Standards says:
17 April 2014

Trading Standards do still do routine inspections but it varies in each department (some do none). Inspections are not mandatory and expensive. Also an inspection is not the same as a sample/test which is even more expensive. An inspection generally won’t show you what is actually served (in certain type of outlets).

Police can try and tackle outright fraud under the Fraud Act but most of this type of stuff would be very difficult to prove as fraud – it would be covered by the Food Safety Act which is strict liability and you don’t need to prove intent.



From the frequency of contamination or even total replacement of meats reported by Which? and others it appears that people are gambling on not being found out. I would like to see Trading Standards funded from fines, which could provide more than adequate funding to run an effective service and hence to deter crime and irresponsibility.


I note what our Trading Standards informant tells us about routine inspections being carried out but I tend to believe that the “some do none” comment is the prevailing standard and not the exception. With all the other serious consumer protection issues to deal with, like weights & measures, counterfeit goods, dodgy traders, rogue builders, unsafe appliances, illegal fireworks, defective Christmas lights, and so on, the chances that TSO’s will hang about in the back streets till the take-aways open looking for beef dressed up as lamb are fairly small in my opinion. I have never read any reports of enforcement action – let alone prosecutions – for that sort of offence and I do tend to keep my eye on these things. I agree with Wavechange above. It is disappointing that the local authorities responsible for consumer protection have reduced the resources required for the work, which has been absolutely the worst thing to do during a recession. I can understand why, and accept that they probably had little alternative, but it means we need to bring new resources to bear on the problem so I think a penalty-based regime is the only way forward now. I believe that if a case is ever taken to the Magistrates Court, the penalties are derisory and the award of costs to the local authority goes nowhere in compensating them for the time and expense required to bring the case to court.