UK - A UK parliamentary committee has expressed concern that no prosecutions have been file yet following the scandal of contamination of beef products with horse meat that occurred earlier this year.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said it is “dismayed” at the slow pace of investigations and has called on the authorities to bring about prosecutions where there is evidence of fraud or illegal activities.
“The horsemeat contamination has been a result of fraud and other criminal activity across the EU. While overall contamination of beef products has been small, it has been widespread across EU Member States, and caused much public concern,” the committee reports.
“The evidence we received from retailers and food processors in the UK and Ireland suggests a complex, highly organised network of companies trading in and mislabelling frozen and processed meat or meat products in a way that fails to meet specifications and that is fraudulent and illegal.
“We are concerned at the failure of authorities in both the UK and Ireland to acknowledge the extent of this and to bring prosecutions.
“We are dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and would like assurance that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or other illegal activity.”
The committee said that consumers must be able to buy products confident that it is what is says on the label and it said that it had noted that following the scandal of horse meat contamination the purchases of meat from independent butchers shops rose and confidence in frozen meat and ready meal products fell.
The committee has now called on the British government to look again at the way that meat products are tested and contamination is screened.
“The system for food traceability, including the requirement that at every stage in the supply chain operators must keep records of the source of each product and its next destination, has been breached. Retailers and meat processors should have been more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration,” the committee reports.
“Trust is not a sufficient guarantee in a system where meat is traded many times before reaching its final destination. We are concerned about the length of supply chains for processed and frozen beef products and welcome efforts by some retailers to shorten these where possible.”
The committee has now called on the Government hold talks with those affected -including farmers, food business operators and retailers - to develop a plan for restoring confidence to this sector before the end of the year.
The committee said it was also concerned about the positive test results for the presence of phenylbutazone (bute) in the horse meat that comes from the UK.
“The evidence we received suggests there are many loopholes in the present system which have allowed horses treated with bute to enter the food system,” the report says.
“The positive release system for horses presented for slaughter is welcome and should continue with the cost shared between the Government and industry. Given the uncertainty over the origin of horsemeat in beef products, we would like some assurance that the movement of horses within the UK and between the UK and Republic of Ireland is being properly tracked by relevant authorities.”
The committee has called for clear and accurate labelling on meat products and has welcomed the European Commission’s five point plan to counter fraud in the industry.
It has also called for greater clarity about the responsibility for identifying food fraud and countering it and it wants to see the Food Standards Agency in the UK strengthened, to become a more efficient and effective regulator.
“If the FSA is to become a more effective regulator of the food industry, it must be given greater powers in relation to this large and growing sector,” the report says.
“It should be given the powers to compel retailers to carry out spot checks and tests where necessary—on both the label and the physical content of the meat—and all test results, whether mandated by the FSA or industry itself, should be reported back to the FSA. In this way the FSA can have a better picture and greater oversight of the industry it is watching over.
“We do not believe this objective can be met by voluntary agreement alone.”
Then Committee has also called for a greater role for local authorities in policing and detecting food fraud and mislabelling and analysing food samples.
Top image via Shutterstock