Horsemeat scandal ‘primarily a labelling issue’, says EFRA

A report on the contamination of beef products compiled by the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has concluded that the incident was “primarily a food labelling issue”.

However, it also said that any suggestions of fraud on a “massive scale” suggested that measures needed to be put in place “now” to stop something like this happening again.

The report added: "The strong indications that people have intentionally substituted horsemeat for beef leads us to conclude that British consumers have been cynically and systematically duped in pursuit of profit by elements within the food industry."

Responsibility

The report said that since the introduction of the European Single Market in 1993, the UK has had no import controls on food from other countries in the EU. However, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food David Heath said it was the responsibility of the exporting country to ensure the correct checks and tests had been carried out on meat products due to be exported.

Meanwhile, Defra said checks could be carried out at the border “if there are grounds to suspect the consignment does not comply with EU conditions”.

Defra added: “Food imported into the UK must satisfy regulations under the Food Safety Act 1990, including regulations that aim to ensure that food has the satisfied and relevant hygiene requirements at all stages of production.”

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) placed responsibility for product safety and authenticity with all parts of the food supply chain. It said: “Food manufacturers have extensive and well-established procedures to document their sources of raw material, the food manufacturing process and the compositional content of the food they produce. They have internal quality control procedures – for example, traceability documentation, raw material intake procedures, microbiological testing, testing of fat levels, temperature controls, control of foreign bodies, and cleaning down of machinery and equipment.”

The supply chain

Additionally, it has been the main priority of the government to determine the point at which the contamination entered the supply chain. And ABP Foods, which owns Silvercrest – the processor that supplied horse and pork contaminated beef burgers to Tesco – stated it had “never knowingly bought, handled or supplied equine meat products”.

Supermarkets also stated they had procedures in place to ensure the quality of the products they sold. In a statement to the Committee, Tesco said: “Once a supplier has been approved to supply us, we have an ongoing programme of site visits, audits and product surveillance to ensure our standards are being maintained. These processes are in addition to those carried out by the relevant food authority, and the suppliers themselves.”

Testing

Additional to the procedures already in place, Tesco group technical director Tim Smith said Tesco had decided to “make a significant investment, at our cost, in DNA sampling of those meats and meat products where this is a potential risk to consumers”.

Smith added that it would cost Tesco between £1m and £2m a year to DNA-test samples from every site that produces for it and the costs would come from his technical function, which is independent within Tesco. He said Tesco would “make a significant investment, at our cost, in DNA sampling of those meats and meat products where this is a potential risk to consumers”.

However, the Committee report highlighted the fact that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) did not carry out food tests, which are done by local authorities and trading standards officers. The FSA told the Committee: “The Agency provides funding to these authorities to undertake testing for specific ingredients or items it has identified on its risk register.”

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