UK report criticises progress in contaminated meat probe

Burgers frying in a panThe authors of a UK Parliamentary report have said they are "dismayed" at the slow pace of investigations into the meat contamination scandal that hit the headlines earlier this year.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report also expresses concern about the failure to bring prosecutions following the discovery that processed and frozen beef products containing horse DNA had infiltrated the UK and Ireland supply chain.

It concludes that the contamination "has been a result of fraud and other criminal activity across the EU" and was perpetrated by "a complex, highly organised network of companies trading in and mislabelling frozen and processed meat or meat products".

The scandal exposed widespread issues relating to mislabelling and the security of the food supply chain across Europe, and comes after an EU-wide testing programme found that a little under 5 per cent of samples tested had more than 1 per cent horse DNA. Results from a UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) investigation revealed that more than 99 per cent of samples were free of horse DNA.

However, the UK fared much worse on testing for veterinary painkiller phenylbutazone (bute) in horses slaughtered for human consumption, with the highest number of positive samples (14 out of 836 carcasses).

EU law prohibits the use of bute in meat destined for human consumption, and since February it has become mandatory for all horse carcasses to be tested for bute before leaving abbatoirs, with those testing positive discarded.

On the latter issue, the European Commission has already issued proposals to set up a mandatory system of horse passports, linked to national databases, to try to stop bute-treated animals entering the food chain. It also wants to reduce the number of organisations that are allowed to issue passports.

The EC also wants greater information sharing between EU member states, a co-ordinated testing programme, stiffer penalties for food fraud and an extension of mandatory origin labelling on all types of meat used as an ingredient in foods.

Traceability 'breached'

The report makes it clear that larger retailers should implement testing systems for processed meat products, with the costs borne by the retailers and not passed onto the consumer, and concludes that "the system for food traceability - including the requirement that at every stage in the supply chain operators must keep records of the source of each product and its next destination - has been breached."

Retailers and meat processors should have been more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration, it notes.

The UK government also comes in for criticism, with the report authors noting that "there was a lack of clarity as a result of the machinery of government changes about where responsibility lay for the response to the horsemeat discovery".

If the FSA is to become a more effective regulator of the food industry, "it must be given greater powers in relation to this large and growing sector," they suggest.

     Want our news sent directly to your inbox?

Yes please 2


Home  |  About us  |  Contact us  |  Advertise  |  Links  |  Partners  |  Privacy Policy  |   |  RSS feed   |  back to top