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Horsemeat report criticises slow pace of investigations

There was a lack of clarity about the role of the Food Standards Agency in responding to the horsemeat scandal, a committee of MPs has said.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Horsemeat report criticises slow pace of investigations

In a new report on the scandal, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has recommended a reversal of the machinery of government changes made in 2010 and has called for the FSA to become one step removed from the government departments it reports to.

The committee also expressed concern that no prosecutions have yet been brought, despite clear evidence of organised fraud in the meat supply chain. The MPs added that that those responsible for the horsemeat scandal must be identified and prosecuted in order to restore consumer confidence in the UK’s frozen meat sector.

Chair of the committee Anne McIntosh MP 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.”

The committee was also surprised by the comparatively large number of horse carcasses from the UK which tested positive for the veterinary drug bute. As it a result, it is arguing that the newly introduced system for testing horses for bute before they are released to the food system should continue with government and industry sharing the cost.

The committee's other recommendatiosn for changes to the food regulation system in the UK include:

  • The Food Standards Agency must become a more effective regulator of industry with the power to compel industry to carry out food testing when needed
  • Large retailers should be made to 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 should be submitted to the FSA and a summary published on the retailers’ website
  • The present system for issuing horse passports should 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.”

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