Inside the Underground World of Illegal Smokies: The Politics of Food

Posted on

[NOISE] Smokiesare illegal not for human consumption.

Diseased animals,they keep the skin and wool on they burn it.

It is a meat whichis ending up in the human food chain.

You are talking aboutthe health of the nation.

[MUSIC] >> Here in the UK, lots of people fromdifferent cultures try to access the food that'straditional to them.

But often, those foodsand the ingredients that make up those dishesare really good to buy.

>> Smokies aretraditional food of some West African countries,but here in the UK, it's illegal toproduce them and it's illegalto sell them.

The term smoky refers to the way the meatis prepared.

An old sheep is shorn,it's then hung up and blowtorched with its skinand its innards intact.

When it's sold on toconsumers they will recook the product sothat a smoked flavor can be part of the foodthey'd like to eat.

[MUSIC] We're on our way toBrixton, which in a sense of it, has a verydiverse market where, rumor has it,people can buy smokies.

On one side of thisdebate, the authorities are concerned that Ecoli, salmonella, and other bacteria couldbe transferred through the way this meatis produced.

But, those thatwant to make it or eat it don't believein the health risks.

A 1986 ban smokiescreated an underground black market thatsupplies the demand by trucking in an estimated200,000 smokies from the UK countrysides toLondon Market each year.


Goat meat would be usedto make a smokie, but here in the UK it'seasier to come by sheep, so lean mutton is whatgoes into the dish.

When you firstmoved here, what did you thinkof the food? >> Roast beef andyorkshire pudding.

>> What do you wanna buy? >> The goatwith the skin.


You wish youcould buy it.

>> Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Goat is nice.

I like the tastes.

>> You throw awaythe best part.

You know whatthis is good for? All the joints,put back all the lubricationin your joints.

>> What's specialabout eating meat with the skin on.

>> It gives us vitamins.

That's what we believe.

We've been eating it forages.

>> How many peopleask you for a smoke? >> Every secondcustomer asks for it.

>> Every second customerhere asks for a smoke.

>> If it was legal we could sell about60 a week.

>> And, how much moneywould that make you? Good money.

Before we wereselling a little bit, but now at the momentwe stopped it.

>> An undergroundtrade is harder for the authorities topolice, and some believe not nearly enough isbeing done to combat it.

One man who has helpedprosecute producers for many years is Dr.

Yunes Teinaz, buthe's now retired.

>> No one istaking any action because local authoritiesare not interested, and the Food Standards Agencydon't know about their local needs.

The issue here,are the local authorities equipped to dealwith criminals? >> It soundsvery similar to the drug trade, in a way.

>> What isthe difference? Both of them are crime,breach the law of the land andaffect human health.

>> The source ofthe smokie is coming into major UK cities isa surprising one.

The much reportedcriminal gangs and masterminds behind thistrade are apparently to be found in a westernrural part of the UK.

[MUSIC] So, we know in Wales, gang activity doesn'treally seem to fit.

There's a description ofwhat goes on around here.

I mean,you look around and all there is,is farm land.

Everybody hereis a farmer, if you're not a farmeryou sell tractors, you sell cow feed,you sell pesticide.

The whole area basicallyrelies on farming.

So, we're about to go meet a farmer calledMargaret Dalton.

She's got womanfarmer of the year, she's been givena Farmer of the Year by the NationalSheep Association.

She was evengiven an IBE for her services to the sheepfarming industry.

>> Yup.

[SOUND] If youdon't behave yourself that'swhat happening.

Do you hear me? Perhaps, he wason the whiskey.

See? Just sit there.

>> When firstmeeting Margaret, she seems likea nice lady and a bit of a soft touchwith the livestock.

But, it's taken hardwork to keep her farm and business afloat.

>> I lost my husbandcoming up to nearly 40, 38 years this year.

He died unfortunatelyof cancer.

I got two small boys.

One was ten.

One was 13 andso you know, we couldn't give upwhat he'd achieved.

We all stuck together andwe're still here, and intend to be fora long time.

On his tongue? >> Margaret is a long wayfrom cultural London.

However, there isan unexpected middle ground betweenWelsh farmers and the people who wantto eat smokies.

>> If we had a tradewhere these older ewes could go legally for,for the smokie trade for the ethnic people that wewelcome into our country.

And, they wantto eat the, the meat that theyare used to in their part of the world, whydon't we supply it for the instead of themdoing it illegally in this country or importingit in suitcases? >> What's the biggestthing to, with bringing inmeat from abroad? >> Well health reasons, both to the farmingfraternity, if you like, to the, to the animals,or to humans themselves.

They're probably being done under unhygienicconditions, where disease could be spreadas quick as wildfire.

When we go to the market, which we mustgo in a minute, you will see sheep there, which are absolutelyideal for that ethnic market trade.

Watch us go.

[CROSSTALK] Shallwe go fast? [NOISE].


Margaret takes me to alocal livestock market to meet some more farmersand to see the kind of sheep that smokieproducers prefer to use.

Farmers only keepa few rams to cover their flock.

So, excess males and older female ewesare no longer used for breeding, but insteadare sold for their meat.

>> We're now inthe market where all the rams and the ewesare being sold to go into the meat trade.

[NOISE] I cannotunderstand a word.

>> You can'tunderstand a word? >> Who's buying? Who is saying,yeah I'll buy? >> Don't waggle yourhand like that or else you'll be buying.

>> Oh,I don't want to buy.

One, two.

>> The atmosphere isquite exciting here.

We've got the auctioneer.

All he's looking out for,have just a look around, is a little flickof the finger.

A kind of tipof the hat and the price justgoes up and up.

Ewes over twoyears old and castrated male sheep arereferred to as mutton.

The flavor is strongerthan that of lamb and the meat is cheaper.

Making it perfect forsmokie production.

So, this is all muttonbeing sold here, which there hasn't really beena particular interest for many English people inbuying for many years.

But since the influxof people from India, people from Africacontinue eat mutton.

It's that that keepsthis market alive.

>> The Welshfarming industry is tough place tomake a living.

So, it's little surprisethat many farmers are calling for the tradeto be legalized so that they cansupply the demand.

One such farmer, andconvicted smokie producer is a mancalled Carmello Gale.

[MUSIC] Gale is consideredby the press and the authorities to haveonce been a key player in the smokey trade.

He agrees to show us whata smokey producer would be looking for whenselecting a sheep for slaughter.


See the teeth onthis one now? >> Yeah.

>> She has lostone both sides so she is what wecall a "broker.

" She is an old ewe thathas finished breeding and she is ready tobe slaughtered, to be culledbecause of her age.

See the rib there? >> Oh, yeah.

>> You can see there, she's half way from therib up to the backbone- >> Right.

>> So, that's what we call a "half-meated ewe.

" So, that means there'sno fat on her.

All these are forthe smokies, yes.

What Carmello wassaying was that a sheep about 30 poundsis the perfect smokie.

Not too much fat.

Quite lean on the back.

Not too big, but some ofthese sheep are going for about 120 pounds.

Everything thatthe Africans will eat has served itslife's purpose.

They want the endof the line, us people, we want theyoung side of everything.

To be honest with you, what they wouldrather eat is goat, but mutton in Londonis sold as goat.

Most of it, andin Manchester and all those other cities,as goat they sell it.

>> In 2004, Carmelo Galewas convicted of running an illegalslaughter house for the productionof smokies.

He pled guilty tothe charges of slaughtering withouta license, and was sentenced tosix months in jail.

I invited Carmelo to joinme for a pint, to get to the bottom of theMafia-style gang rumors, and his role inthe illegal trade.

You are the Carmelo Gale.

>> Yes, it's caused me a lot of trouble inmy life, my name.


I'd be better off if it was John Jones.

Are you a criminal? >> No, I'm nota criminal, I'm a farmer.

But, because they thoughtI was of Italian origin and Mafia is Italian.

But, I'm not Italianactually but I am Mediterranean.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm not a criminalat all.

But, the system makes yousometimes a criminal.

Why did you getinvolved in smokies? >> I was drivinga lorry and then I saw what could bedone, and at that time, then I knew there was,other people doing it, and I was prosecuted forit.

>> Do you regret it? >> Not one bit, and ifyou believe in something, you've got tostick to it.

I'm fighting on behalfof the farmer to get this trade legal becausewe will all benefit, and I'm also fighting for the African peoplebecause they want it.

They are crying for it, because it'stheir culture.

>> It's hard to tellhow much of the farming community's motivationsare altruistic and how much is money driven.

But, we can be surethat plenty of people in the UKdo wish they could buy smokiessafely and legally.

>> You want to try it? My mommy's the best cook.

She's the bestcook in Africa.

>> The next day, I had to meet a family inthe world city of Cardiff who have invited me tosit down with them for a meal preparedwith smokie meat.

Explain to methen how do you cook the smoking meat? >> We've got tomatoes,onions, chillies.

The goat.

>> What have you doneto the goat meat to get that, that point? >> We boil it withspices to make it soft before we can.

Add it to the saucesthat we make, because if you add itstraight away raw, it doesn't cook.

>> It doesn't cook.

>> You can't chew it.

>> I'm going to puta little bit of chili in here, because you guyswon't be able to hold it.

>> I like spicy food.

>> You do?>> You do? >> Okay.

He's doing well.

>> I can cook.

>> You can get a foodcooked better when it's cooked in their own skin,in their own juices.

>> It tastes heavenly.

>> When you smoke it itadds a special flavour to it, and especially theleg when you roast it.

When you roast it, you get the samecrackling that you get that youget on a pork.

>> And, it's delicious.

[LAUGH]>> In African culture, food is the basis becausewhen you put food on the table you get allthe family around it.

>> We want tosay thank you.

Also for this food and also for the purpose ofpreparing this food.

>> Food is part of us and we can't do without food,can we? >> How important is itfor you to be able to buy all of this stuffthat you grew up on.

It's really importantbecause you are not used to eatinganything else.

If you want toeat your food.

>> Yeah.


>> Your African food, you want the reallife African food.

>> Yeah, yeah.

>> You, you don'twant substitutes.

>> Is it so important? But, on special occasionsyou will find it some way, somehow.

>> When you feel like eating somethingfrom home.

You are just gratefulthat you can get it somewhere.

Even though you don'tknow where it's coming from,you are just grateful.

>> How importantwould it be for you to havethe meat legalized? >> It would help usif it's legalized and it's killed in a properabattoir rather than in some.

Rather than in someback street somewhere, where we don't knowwhere it's coming from.

>> Because you don't knowwhere it's coming from, would you ever worryabout giving the food to your children? >> No,because we boil it.

It kills any bacteriathat might be in it.

>> so.

>> A little bit ofbacteria doesn't kill you, they put it in theiryoghurt so why not? [LAUGH].

>> Unfortunately, not all bacteria is of theprobiotic friendly kind, and in fact somecan kill you.

We asked Dr.

Andreas Karatzas a foodmicrobiologist from the University ofReading to tell us about the bacteria that may becarried by sheepskin.

>> So, this isStaphylococcus and it's a potentialpathogen, can actually contaminatethe, the food.

It has been foundthat it's actually on the skin of the sheep- >> Uh-huh.

>> In a very high percentage.

>> And,how would you kill it? >> Obviously,you can kill it with a, with a,with heat treatment.

[SOUND] So, that wouldbe a salmonella, they could make you sick.

They can also sendyou to the hospital.

In rare cases, it canactually kill you if it gets intothe bloodstream.

This is Listeriamonocytogenes.

>> Yeah.

>> This is the most deadly.

It would cause problemto old people, pregnant women, people who have immunesystem there's a problem.

It's very difficult for the antibioticsto kill it.

So, once somebodyget's this disease, it's about a 30,30% chances of dying.

>> It's unlikelythat consumers be legal me would complainto the authorities if they become ill.

As a result, extinct towhich the ongoing trade and smokie isleaving people with food poisoning ishard to gauge.

At what temperature doyou need to reach for most bacteria to die? >> Most of the bacteriawould actually die at around 70, 80 degrees.

But then, you have somevery resistant ones that you need to goabove 100, 120, or 130.

Obviously thistemperature would be reached with a,with a blowtorch.

But, you might stillhave some areas that, they are not beingtreated, ok, and this depends on thesurface of the animal.

The main problemregarding the bacteria, there have not beenany tests looking at the pathogenic bacteriathat can make you sick, and how they cansurvive the process.

The remaining pieceof the puzzle is to see how the smokieis produced.

[MUSIC] Lots of farmers saythat they know what a smokie is, and thatthe legalization of it would benefit theirindustry a lot.

But, very fewfarmers will admit to ever making them.

Anyway, we've managedto track down somebody.

He said that he'llshow us how to do it.

He's told the rest of the crew that they've gota way back onto the farm, and I've got no ideawhere we're going.

[SOUND] The sheep's beingshorn in preparation.

>> To make a smokie, you need a shornmutton carcass and a powerful blow torch.

The internal organsare left inside and the skin remains intactto be blowtorched making the smokie a possiblehealth risk.

Without knowing theprovidence of the sheep, the consumer doesn't knowwhether the animal has recently been treatedwith drugs or insecticides.

Or whether the skinmight hide lesions and abscesses, whichcould point to bacterial infections,and other disease.

Currently in the U.


, it's legal to eat fromhere to here the sheep.

You can smokethe head of a lamb if it's under 12 months old.

So, but it is legal toeat those bits, why isn't it legal to eat allthe bits where meat are.

It's quite hard tosee what doesn't make sense about it sinceit's going to get cooked, fried, boiled.

Everything else thatyou might do to meat that you might buyin the supermarket.

The only argument couldbe a hygienic one.

The stinging processof the wool and skin can releasechemicals that could potentiallybe toxic.

And without furtherresearch no one knows how manytoxins are produced, or how they can effectthe consumer.


While the blowtorchingdoes kill a certain amount of bacteria,even if a small number of them, or dangerouspathogens were left behind, it could make yousick, or even kill you.

So, the smokie is nowbeing washed down.

All that black charcoal, it was created from whenthe skin was torched, is being washed away.

So, here we have it,the smokie.

It's got thisamazing smell.

Unfortunately, theappetizing smokie aroma is soon replacedby another when the carcass isopened up and the internal organsare removed.

>> It smells horrendous.

But, when the smokiesare sold on the market, these aren't the bitthat you're eating.

Its this bit thatpeople are after.

>> The science behind theslaughter process can be complicated.

And, the removal of the internal organs iswhat's up for debate.

>> Is therean added danger at that point whenthe guts are removed? When you have the gutsremoved, you, you practically haveexactly the same danger as, as ina normal process.

>> Right.

>> Because where, where you actuallymove the guts, you have a lot ofbacteria inside the gut, and some of them canbe pathogenic for humans, that can passthrough the skin.

But, it's more or lessthe same danger, right? >> An investigationinto the production of smokies, indicated thatin fact, a safe and hygienic methodis possible.

The food standards agencypresented these findings to their Europeancounterparts, but they were told thatmore work needs to be done before the bancan be lifted.

>> Every traditionalprocess that has been going on for thousandsand thousands of years, it doesn't meanthat it's safe.

You have alsothe tradition, but you also havethe development and the science.

Now, with the massiveproduction of food, you can have.

An outbreak that goesthrough a lot of different countriesin the same time.

So, that's whythe science, you know? And, the hygieneis actually in a high level at themoment, it's a priority.

>> What's youropinion of smokies? >> You know, it'sacceptable across the world, it's just in thiscountry, we've got to dot the is, cross the ts,we're so extreme with.

We're so extreme withcleanliness and whatever, and there's no issue.

>> So, who's draggingtheir feet at the moment? >> It'sthe government and the Meat Hygiene Service, bunch of numbnutsI think.

>> We've beentrying I'd say for 15 years tomake it legal.

They've done all thetrials that they can do and can't find anythingwrong with them.

[MUSIC] We contactedthe FSA ourselves.

And, in response to ourquestions, the FSA say that they recognisethat legalisation would eliminate the undergroundtrade and have a positive economicimpact for sheep farmers.

Whilst theirinvestigation into the safe production of skinon sheep meat continues, smokies remainedillegal in the UK and across Europe.

A lot of research hasgone into figuring out if there's a safe and hygienic way ofmaking smokies.

While some people thinkmore research is needed, others think thereis a safe method of production outthere already.

But, one thing remainscertain, as more and more people chose tomake the UK their home, the issue aroundwhat people can and can not buy andtheir right to maintain the traditionalcultures here in the UK.

It's not gonna go away.


Source: Youtube