Speaking at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) annual conference, Paterson said: "The subsititution of beef with horsemeat has shaken consumers’ confidence. It is totally unacceptable that anyone should buy meat labelled beef and end up with horsemeat. That is fraud and I am determined this criminal activity should be stopped and anyone who has defrauded the customer must feel the full force of the law."
He said the situation was a Europe-wide problem and he had agreed an action plan with his European counterparts, which would see countries and agencies sharing information through Europol. He said he had also called on the European Commission to speed up the publication of its report on country-of-origin labelling (COOL) by the summer.
Away from horsemeat, he told farmers the government would do all it could to help support the market for exports of British food and highlighted the fact exports had continued to grow for the past seven consecutive years.
"Russia has just lifted its ban on British beef and lamb imports in a deal potentially worth £80m over the next three years. China has also opened its doors to British pork, enabling us to export the fifth quarter, with a value of £50m."
He also pushed the case for GM and greater use of technology in farming: "The rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of this technology, while Europe risks being left behind.
"I fully appreciate the strong feelings on both sides of the debate, but we shouldn’t forget that respected scientific opinion shows that GM crops pose no greater risk than conventional crops.