The Role of the Food Standards Agency must be clearer

16 July 2013

There was a lack of clarity about the role of the FSA in responding to the contamination of beef products, says the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today.

Launching the Food Contamination report, Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP, said:  

"The Committee agrees that Ministers must be responsible for policy, but there was confusion about where responsibility lay for responding to the horse meat discovery. We urge 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."

Those responsible for the horsemeat scandal must be identified and prosecuted in order to restore consumer confidence in the UK’s frozen meat sector, according to MPs. 

In report examining lessons from the meat contamination incident, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee expressed concern that no prosecutions have yet been brought, despite clear evidence of organised fraud in the meat supply chain.

Chair of the Committee Anne McIntosh MP has said: 

"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."

Although the fraud proved not as extensive as originally feared, it has reduced consumer confidence in frozen and processed meats, such as frozen burgers. Although few samples eventually proved negative, the worst example found more than a quarter of a supermarket burger was horse instead of beef.

Anne McIntosh stated:

"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."

The Committee was also surprised by the comparatively large number of horse carcasses from the UK which tested positive for the veterinary drug bute. It argues that a newly introduced system for testing horses for bute before they are released to the food system must continue with government and industry sharing the cost.

The Committee recommends a number of changes to the food regulation system in the UK:

  • The Food Standards Agency must be a more effective regulator of industry and be given powers to compel industry to carry out food testing when needed;
  • Large retailers must carry out regular DNA testing of meat ingredients for frozen and processed meat products, with the costs borne by industry and not consumers;
  • All test results must be submitted to the FSA and a summary published on the retailers’ website;
  • The present system for issuing horse passports must change and a single national database be established in all EU Member States;
  • The FSA should have powers to ensure all local authorities carry out some food sampling each year;
  • Local authorities should adopt targeted sampling—testing from time to time products which might be contaminated without requiring intelligence to support it;
  • The Government should ensure there are sufficient, properly trained public analysts in the UK;
  • There should be better communication about the role of the FSA so that there is no uncertainty in future about who is responsible for responding to similar incidents;
  • The FSA should ensure channels of communication with devolved administrations and its EU counter parts are open and encourage sharing of information.

Anne McIntosh said:

"The FSA must become a more efficient and effective regulator and be seen to be independent of industry. It must have the power to be able to compel industry to carry out tests when needed. It must also be more innovative in its testing regime and vigilant in ensuring every local authority carries out regular food sampling,"

Further information

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Image: iStockphoto


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