CHARLOTTE, NC - Tucked away in a strip mall in Charlotte's Ballantyne neighborhood is small butcher shop that makes big promises. "What's Your Beef?" has a website that boasts it sells "the best beef you can buy" and the chicken is "all natural, locally raised."
Over the past few months, three different customers have contacted WBTV about the business. All had questions about where owner Victor Giroux gets the products he sells in his store. "WBTV Investigates" visited the store on several different occasions to look and to buy. Giroux told us the meats were "all local."
Our cameras though spotted him shopping not a local farm, but at a local Sam's Club. When asked directly if he sells meat's he bought at Sam's Club he said "no."
Giroux says he buys mostly personal items from the big box retailer. He also told us he saw us taking pictures of him at Sam's Club one morning.
"Those are fish burgers that I bought for the house," said Giroux. "If you look in here you don't see any fish."
It is true, "What's Your Beef?" doesn't sell fish, but we saw him on more than one occasion shopping and delivering to his store many other items.
A search of YouTube turned up a video that shows "What's Your Beef?" coolers full of packaged meats with everyday labels. "WBTV Investigates" also obtained a series of photographs showing the same thing, packaged meats with labels most people can get on their own. Two former employees, who spoke to WBTV on condition of anonymity said those packaged products are what is being sold to "What's Your Beef?" customers.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture issued a "Notice of Warning" to Giroux in 2013. The state told him to stop using claims like "locally raised, no hormones and all natural." Giroux says he did comply.
"That was for grass fed, do you see grass fed on here?" said Giroux.
The former employees also told us something potentially even more troubling. They said in some cases, customers were not getting the type of meat they paid for. Giroux, after we started asking questions, posted an open letter on his company's website. He said his motto holds true: "The Meat Doesn't Lie." We put it to the test.
A WBTV producer bought two different items on two different occasions. One was labeled and sold to us as ground lamb. "WBTV Investigates" sent a sample of the purchase to ELISA Technologies, Inc. It's a Florida company that specializes in meat species testing.
A few days later we bought a bison filet. They "What's Your Beef'?" website says it is from "local ranchers in the mountains of North Carolina." A sample of it was sent to Texas A&M University for DNA testing.
A few days later the results came back. The ground lamb tested negative for sheep, but positive for cow. We were sold ground beef, not ground lamb. As for the bison, all 13 DNA markers showed it was domestic cattle. It was also beef, not bison.
Giroux's letter on his website makes not mention of the test results. It just reiterated he doesn't get his products from Sam's Club. It doesn't say where he gets them. During our in-store conversation he mentioned a couple of meat-suppliers, but didn't offer any invoices as proof.
Mecklenburg County inspects local meat markets. A spokesperson said the North Carolina Food Code says species cannot be misrepresented. Health inspectors though can only inspect the meat visually, so they would not automatically know if mislabeling was happening. The county though would follow-up and investigate further if a complaint about species misrepresentation/mislabeling was made.
WBTV also contacted the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Alan Wade, the Director of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division says his office will take a closer look at what WBTV discovered.
"The offer for sale or sale of meat products in intrastate commerce that contain labeling that is false and misleading is in violation of the NC Meat Inspection Law," said Wade in an email to WBTV. "Based on your investigative report I see some concerns in reference to possible violations of that law. Therefore we will be investigating further."
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