In the update, delivered yesterday (11 February), he said: “I would like to update the House on recent developments on horsemeat and food fraud.
“The events we have seen unfold over the past few days in the UK and Europe are completely unacceptable. Consumers need to be confident that food is what it says on the label. It is outrageous that consumers have been buying products labelled beef, but which turn out to contain horsemeat.”
Paterson’s address came on the same day Tesco confirmed its Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese meal was found to contain up to 60% horse meat. However, the product was withdrawn from sale last week when it was reported to have been made in the same factory as the Findus beef lasagne that was discovered to contain up to 100% horse meat.
Such discoveries led Paterson to lay the responsibility of the scandal with both retailers and processors, saying it was up to them to ensure consumers were not misled over the content of food products. He said: “I made it very clear that there needs to be openness and transparency in the system for the benefit of consumers. Retailers and processors need to deliver on these commitments to reassure their customers.”
The Secretary of State also explained that immediate testing of products would be carried out across the supply chain. “This includes suppliers to schools, hospitals and prisons, as well as to retailers,” he said. He also said he would like to “reiterate” that he had been assured by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that it currently had no evidence to suggest that recalled products “represent a food safety risk”.
According to Paterson, the source of the incidents were still being investigated. However, he said it was already clear that “we are dealing with” Europe-wide supply networks. As such, the responsible party for the horsemeat scandal remains at large, and the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta is the latest to deny claims that contaminated meat products originated in his country.
Paterson is expected to meet with his French, Irish and Romanian counterparts later this week, as the scandal touches up to 16 countries. Following an investigation last weekend, French authorities identified two abattoirs near Bucharest as the possible sources of the contaminated beef.
Paterson said: “In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I completely understand why people are so concerned about this issue. It is unacceptable that people have been deceived in this way. There appears to have been criminal activity in an attempt to defraud the consumer.”