The UK needs a more effective food safety regulator, which has the power to force retailers and processors to carry out DNA testing on meat, a group of MPs investigating the horsemeat scandal have concluded.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), which published the findings of its food contamination inquiry today (16 July), claimed that a “lack of clarity” over the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA) role had slowed down investigations into the incident.
The Committee also expressed concern that no companies or individuals had yet been prosecuted, despite “clear evidence” of organised fraud in the meat supply chain.
“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,” said Committee chair Anne McIntosh MP.
In order to make the FSA a more “efficient and effective” regulator, the Committee called on the government to “reconsider the machinery of government changes it made in 2010 and make the FSA one step removed from the government departments it reports to”.
It added that retailers and processors should be forced to carry out more regular DNA testing of meat and meat products, with the costs borne by industry and not passed on to consumers.
“Retailers and meat processors should be more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration. Regular and detailed DNA tests are needed on all meat or meat-based ingredients which form part of a processed or frozen meat product. Consumers need to know that what they buy is what the label says it is,” said McIntosh.
Other recommendations in the report included a continuation of the system of testing horses for the veterinary drug bute before they are released into the food chain, the establishment of a single national database for horse passports, targeted sampling and testing of meat products by local authorities and improved communication between the FSA and food safety officials in devolved administrations and other EU member states.
“The FSA will only be able to promote public confidence in its role as regulator of the food industry if it builds open communication channels to share information and intelligence with other bodies early on. It should not, in future, consider it acceptable to wait six weeks for a final confirmation of adulteration from one of our closest neighbours before acting itself,” said the Committee.