EFRA to debate horsemeat scandal

The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) is to debate the lessons that have been learnt since the horsemeat scandal in Westminster Hall today.

The debate will centre around EFRA’s latest findings on the incident, and the government’s official response to its recommendations, which was published last week.

Key issues include whether or not the FSA should be given greater power to force the food industry to conduct sampling, whether there needs to be greater clarity over the role of the FSA in food fraud incidents, and whether criminal investigations into food fraud are progressing at a reasonable rate.

Government response

In its response to EFRA’s recommendations, the government expressed a reluctance to introduce more stringent testing requirements, stating it favoured working with the food industry to “strengthen the verification aspects of their own checks in relation to food authenticity”.

However, EFRA chair Anne McIntosh said that the Committee believed the FSA should be given stronger powers to compel local authorities and industry to carry out regular food sampling. “At present the FSA may only request such actions and there has been a marked decrease in food sampling in the last two years.”

The government also denied that confusion over the roles of government agencies had hampered official response to the incident, claiming it was “perfectly normal for policy responsibility to be with Ministers and responsibility for enforcement to be with a separate delivery body”.

McIntosh said that the Committee agreed Ministers were responsible for policy, but insisted that the confusion arising from the change of responsibilities in 2010 should be addressed.

“There must be greater clarity about where responsibility lies for responding to incidents of adulteration and the changes made in 2010 must be reconsidered so that the FSA is one step removed from Defra and the Department of Health,” she said.

She added that despite the government claiming that criminal investigations were underway and lack of public information should not be interpreted as meaning lack of action, EFRA was “dismayed” at the slow progress, “especially the lack of prosecutions and exemplary penalties for fraud”.

Nation Audit Office

The UK National Audit Office also published a report into the government’s response to the scandal last week.

The report found that the “split in responsibilities for food policy between the Food Standards Agency and two Whitehall departments in 2010” led to confusion about the role of the Agency and Defra, and delayed government and local authority response to the incident.

It also raised concerns over “weakness” in the government’s intelligence gathering and sharing, and understanding of opportunities for fraud along the food supply china, as well as insufficient testing.

It recommended that resource should be shifted from slaughterhouse inspections to checks on processed meat products, although it recognised that this would require European approval.

““The January 2013 horsemeat incident has revealed a gap between what citizens expect of the controls over the authenticity of their food, and the effectiveness of those controls in reality. The division of responsibilities for food safety and authenticity has created confusion,” said Aymas Morse, head of the NAO.

“The Government needs to remove this confusion, and improve its understanding of potential food fraud and how intelligence is brought together and shared.”


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