Horse Meat Scandal: MPs Call For Improved Food Testing

MPs have called for more testing of food safety and composition, describing the scale of contamination in the meat supply chain as "breathtaking".

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said current arrangements for testing and control across the European food industry had failed UK consumers.

The MPs' committee said that restoring customer confidence 'will take time and money'

It concluded that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) needs "clear powers and responsibilities" to allow it to respond more effectively to any future food adulteration issues.

Launching the report of its short inquiry into the contamination of beef products, committee chairwoman Anne McIntosh said: "The scale of contamination in the meat supply chain is breathtaking. More revelations will doubtless come to light in the UK and across the EU.

"There is every indication that horsemeat has been intentionally substituted for beef by criminals with access to the food industry. Elements within the food industry have duped consumers in the UK and across Europe in pursuit of profit.

"The government must ensure effective traceability requirements in respect of the sale and marketing of processed foods originating from EU member states, including the UK.

"Retailers have responsibilities to ensure UK consumers get food that is labelled accurately and provides sufficient information to make informed decisions about their purchases."

She added: "Restoring customer confidence will take time and money. The government has a role to secure the correct balance between affordable food prices and effective regulations that require transparency and quality.

"The consumer cannot be left to face a catch 22 where they can either pay for food that complies with the highest standards of traceability, labelling and testing or accept that they cannot trust the provenance and composition of the foods they eat."

The report recommends that the FSA is given the statutory powers to require producers to undertake testing, taking into account the level of risk, and that all testing results must be reported to the FSA whether they are mandated by the agency or carried out independently.

It also recommends a broader range of testing to provide greater assurance to consumers.

It warned the government that it should not "at this time" propose to reduce the labelling standards applied to British food.

For Labour, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said that report showed the government was wrong to to cut back the FSA.

"This damning report makes clear the Tories' reckless break-up of the Food Standards Agency in 2010 has harmed the government's capacity to deal with the horse meat scandal," she said.

In the report, the committee said: "The FSA's diminished role has led to a lack of clarity about where responsibility lies, and this has weakened the UK's ability to identify and respond to food standards concerns.

"Furthermore the current contamination crisis has caught the FSA and government flat-footed and unable to respond effectively within structures designed primarily to respond to threats to human health."