MPs castigate Government’s ‘flat footed’ response to the horsemeat scandal
14th February 2013
In a scathing, damning report delivered to the house of commons yesterday, a group of senior MPs described the government’s handling and response to the horse meat scandal as ‘flat footed’. They have called for more widespread testing of processed meat products to ensure people there is no danger to their health. As they criticised the coalition government yesterday, the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee argued that saying its ability to efficiently react to the scandal had been severely hampered by staff and funding cuts to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2010, adding that the British public have been ‘cynically and systematically duped’ for financial gain by certain sectors of the food industry. The report states: “It seems improbable that individuals prepared to pass horse meat off as beef illegally are applying the high hygiene standards rightly required in the food production industry. We recommend that the Government and FSA undertake a broader spectrum of testing for products found to have the highest levels of contamination...to provide assurances that there is no other non-bovine DNA or any other substances that could be harmful to human health present.” Only last night EU ministers decided there will be random testing of meat products for the horse painkiller drug Bute in addition to the testing for horse DNA. This comes after Medical Specialists reported last month that the anti-inflammatory drug had entered the UK food chain, and can cause cancer in humans. The MPs were also unimpressed about the way in which the government and FSA had acted since horsemeat was first found in the beef products of some of the country’s largest supermarket chains. They said: “Whilst ministers are properly responsible for policy, 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.” Agreeing with the senior ministers, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London, told BBC's Newsnight that the FSA needed to be strengthened. He commented: “It's not been doing its job. We need more inspectors; they've been slashed and cut. We can't have the industry policing itself, that's what's gone wrong. The big food companies didn't actually have the control they said they had.” All this comes in the same week that the results of two public surveys emerged, clearly demonstrating the impact the scandal has had on the attitude and confidence of the UK public to the meat industry. An online survey of 1,946 people conducted for by YouGov for Sky News found that roughly one in five have now changed the way they shop because of the shocking horsemeat scandal and over half (58%) had actually completely ceased buying any processed meats altogether. Moreover, about a third of those surveyed stated they now refuse to buy cheap ranges and instead are opting for costlier processed meat. So who is at fault for the scandal? Nearly half (49%) of the 1,946 people questioned blamed meat processing companies, 20% blamed food manufacturers, whilst interestingly only 10% believed the supermarkets were culpable for the crisis. Ministers appeared to have been let off the hook by the general public as only 3% thought the government were to blame and 8% the FSA. On Monday, the Kantar group who run consultancy, advisory and market research services, conducted a poll to find out if shoppers habits had altered as a result of the scandal. They found that 36% were less likely to purchase processed meat, with a further 36% saying it would make no difference. A quarter of people claimed they did not buy processed meat anyway. It appears that men are taking the scandal less seriously than women with almost half of men (47%) claiming that their future purchases of processed meat would not be affected, compared to just a quarter of women (26%).