By David Shrimpton
Restaurants in London's Chinatown are under investigation by Ministry of Agriculture officials after illegal pig-meat was discovered on their premises. There are fears that Triad criminal gangs could be involved.
"Westminster Council found unstamped pig carcasses in some restaurants in Chinatown," a spokeswoman for the ministry confirmed this week. "They passed the information on to us and we are continuing the investigation."
All meat deemed fit to eat in the UK has to be given a stamp of approval by the Meat Hygiene Service. This distinctive oval mark was missing from carcasses at the Chinese restaurants involved.
Sources believe the meat could have come from pigs stolen from UK farms and illegally slaughtered, or smuggled into the country. They fear Triad gangs could be behind the trade. "There are various factions involved," said one.
Pig rustling is on the increase in the UK. A spokesman for insurer NFU Mutual said: "For welfare reasons, there has been a trend to raise pigs outdoors, which makes them vulnerable to theft."
Some 14,000 pigs were stolen from farms last year, along with 75,000 sheep, 3,000 cattle and a few goats, to a total value of more than £7m.
Stolen pigs are sometimes illegally slaughtered, either on a kitchen table or, in extreme cases, in a field. Both methods could have serious implications for the safety of the meat.
A second theory is that the meat was smuggled in from the Continent, possibly from Spain, where there have been outbreaks of the highly contagious virus, swine fever. Control measures include restrictions on the movement of pigs, slaughter policies and the banning of exports.