Concerns were raised this weekend that government officials from the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) have been approving meat for sale in the UK that should have been condemned or disposed of under regulations implemented to keep BSE out of the food chain.

Police in Wales and London have now arrested a total of seven people, all of who have been released on bail, as part of a major nationwide investigation into the multi-million pound trade in recycling condemned meat, deliberately cleaning it and labelling it to make it appear fit for human consumption.

A raid last week on the Welsh regional office of the MHS, and the arrest of meat inspector Peter Maguigan, marks the first investigation into illicit sales of red meat, however. Other cases have all involved poultry meat.

Maguigan was based at Oriel Jones abattoir in Llanybydder, near Lampeter, one of the biggest in Wales, where his duties involved inspecting plant output.

The raid was prompted by an earlier visit to an unlicensed store in Llandre, Aberystwyth, where police seized 1,100 boxes each containing up to 50lb of beef or lamb. The boxes, dozens of which belonged to Oriel Jones, were apparently intended to be sold to leading retailers, but experts at a court hearing revealed that it was largely unfit for human consumption.

In February 2001, the abattoir was fined £35,000 after it was proved to be dumping animal waste in private woodland areas nearby. Prosecution was bought by the Welsh Environment Agency after inspectors discovered offal on the ground and hanging from trees.