Ranjit Singh Boparan, the multimillionaire boss of 2 Sisters Food Group, has apologised for the scandal engulfing his company as he pledged to fund the cost of independent inspectors to police all 12 of his UK chicken sites.
The concessions came during a sometimes heated session of the Commons’ environment, food and rural affairs committee hearing, in which Boparan, whose firm produces a third of all poultry products eaten in the UK, also pledged to improve standards at his factory, increase training of his workforce and install closed circuit television to check on staff.
However, the entrepreneur was evasive when quizzed by MPs about whether the company had breached food safety regulations, and repeatedly declined to answer direct questions on the topic. Boparan had been summoned to appear in front of the parliamentary committee after a Guardian and ITV News investigation into standards at the firm’s West Bromwich plant.
Losing his temper at one point, Boparan addressed MPs with a raised voice and said: “We do not have poor standards. I invite all of you to my factory.”
Neil Parish, chairman of the committee, said he would accept Boparan’s apology and his promise to improve standards.
Parish added: “What he said today was recorded and is on the record. I accept his word that he will improve and put things right. But God help him if he’s got to come here again and he hasn’t put it right.”
The inquiry was called after the Guardian and ITV News recorded undercover footage in August showing 2 Sisters workers altering the source and slaughter date of poultry being processed at the firm’s Site D plant in West Bromwich.
Other 2 Sisters workers have also told the Guardian and ITV News that they have been instructed to alter “kill dates”.
Further footage showed chicken being retrieved from the floor of the plant and returned to the production line, plus older chicken being mixed with fresher birds. Chris Elliott, a food safety academic from Queen’s University Belfast who led the UK government’s independent review of food systems after the 2013 horsemeat scandal said he had inspected many food businesses in the past four years and had “never seen one operate under such poor standards” as the video evidence showed.
Experts said altering kill dates could artificially stretch the commercial life of the meat and dupe consumers into buying chicken past its use-by date.
While Boparan apologised for the factory’s problems and admitted that the footage showing the changing of kill dates looked wrong, he contested that altering the labels was a breach of regulations.
He claimed employees were actually correcting slaughter dates erroneously attached to trays of chicken crowns. Later, his technical director Chris Gilbert-Wood told the committee that this view is what “could be” happening in the footage.
The worker shown changing the kill dates has since been dismissed, after the company instigated disciplinary proceedings citing allegations he had breached “food safety regulations”.
When asked several times by John Grogan MP if there had been breaches of regulations, the most Boparan would concede was: “I said mistakes were made.”
The company also admitted to the MPs that changing kill dates should only be done by a quality control worker and never by a member of production. The sacked worker – and the supervisor who instructed him to change the labels – are both understood to have worked in production.
Boparan also acknowledged that he had a conversation eight years ago with Jack Dromey, the shadow business secretary and then a union official. The politician told the businessman that 2 Sisters workers had informed him that dates on the company’s chicken were being changed, “so that meat, that should have been thrown away, was sold to supermarkets”. The millionaire said that he had asked Dromey to “give me the evidence” but that he “never heard anything else”.
Boparan’s appearance came after an uncomfortable hearing in front of the committee for food inspectors, including representatives from the Food Standards Agency who were forced to admit they had last performed an unannounced inspection at the West Bromwich plant almost a year ago, with the last announced audit in July.
In a separate session, the committee also heard from from BRC Global Standards, which conducts audits at food plants, the British Poultry Council, an industry body, and Assured Food Standards, which promotes and regulates food quality and licenses the Red Tractor quality mark.
They were all accused of being “culpable” for the standards exposed at the plant, as the committee pledged to launch a more thorough parliamentary inquiry into food standards next year.