THE ENVIRONMENT, FOOD and Rural Affairs Committee yesterday (16th July) revealed the results of the Food Contamination Report, which outlined recommended changes to food regulation legislation in the UK post-horsegate.
It also said that there was confusion around the role of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a result of the horse meat scandal, urging the government to reconsider how the FSA reports into various departments.
In examining the lessons from the crisis the Committee expressed its concerns over the lack of prosecutions brought, despite evidence of organised fraud, with MPs also calling for those responsible to be identified and prosecuted.
Chair of the Committee Anne McIntosh MP has said:
“The evidence suggests a complex network of companies trading in and mislabelling beef or beef products which is fraudulent and illegal.”
“We are dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and seek assurances that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or illegality.”
Although the fraud proved not as extensive as originally feared, it has reduced consumer confidence in frozen and processed meats, such as frozen burgers. Although few samples eventually proved negative, the worst example found more than a quarter of a supermarket burger was horse instead of beef.
McIntosh added: “Retailers and meat processors should be more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration. Regular and detailed DNA tests are needed on all meat or meat-based ingredients which form part of a processed or frozen meat product. Consumers need to know that what they buy is what the label says it is.”
The Committee went onto express surprised by the comparatively large number of horse carcasses from the UK which tested positive for the veterinary drug bute. It argues that a newly introduced system for testing horses for bute before they are released to the food system must continue with government and industry sharing the cost.
Key recommendations by the Committee to the government were made:
- The Food Standards Agency must be a more effective regulator of industry and be given powers to compel industry to carry out food testing when needed;
- Large retailers must carry out regular DNA testing of meat ingredients for frozen and processed meat products, with the costs borne by industry and not consumers;
- All test results must be submitted to the FSA and a summary published on the retailers’ website;
- The present system for issuing horse passports must change and a single national database be established in all EU Member States;
- The FSA should have powers to ensure all local authorities carry out some food sampling each year;
- Local authorities should adopt targeted sampling—testing from time to time products which might be contaminated without requiring intelligence to support it;
- The Government should ensure there are sufficient, properly trained public analysts in the UK;
- There should be better communication about the role of the FSA so that there is no uncertainty in future about who is responsible for responding to similar incidents;
- The FSA should ensure channels of communication with devolved administrations and its EU counter parts are open and encourage sharing of information.
McIntosh concluded: “The FSA must become a more efficient and effective regulator and be seen to be independent of industry. It must have the power to be able to compel industry to carry out tests when needed. It must also be more innovative in its testing regime and vigilant in ensuring every local authority carries out regular food sampling,”