UK warned of another horsemeat scandal as food fraud rises

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NAO questions whether there will be capacity to respond to future incidents, given decline of capable analysts and labs

Budget cuts coupled with a two-thirds rise in reported food fraud have increased the risks of another horsemeat scandal, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report that is highly critical of government changes weakening food controls.

UK warned of another horsemeat scandal as food fraud rises

The cuts in testing also led to a loss of intelligence information, meaning “the government failed to identify the possibility of adulteration of beef products with horsemeat despite indications of heightened risk”, the NAO says.

It questions whether there will be sufficient capacity to respond to future incidents, given the dramatic decline since 2010 in the number of public analysts and laboratories capable of detecting food fraud. Just 29 public analysts remain out of 40, and four out of a total of 13 labs have closed in the last two years.

The watchdog’s inquiry has found a dramatic increase in food fraud, with one in six products failing tests for the presence of undeclared species in 2012. But until testing was ramped up after Irish authorities found horsemeat in beef in January 2013, no tests for undeclared horse in food had been conducted in England since 2003.

There were 1,380 reported cases of food fraud in 2012, up by two-thirds since 2010, as the recession and the rising cost of raw materials created the incentives for it. But over the same period, the number of food samples officially tested for safety and authenticity in England fell by a quarter as local authority funding suffered deep cuts.

The watchdog’s strongest criticism is aimed at the impact of the coalition’s “bonfire of the quangos”. It took overall responsibility for food policy away from the Food Standards Agency and divided it between the FSA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Health (DH).

Defra is now in charge of checking that food is what it claims to be, DH looks after nutrition policy, and the FSA is left with food safety. The result was “confusion” when the horsemeat crisis hit.

The report said confusion continues and must be tackled either by bringing food back under one entity or by clarifying how the new structure could work.

The Consumers’ Association added its weight to the call for restoring powers over food controls to the FSA.

Executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “The scandal exposed a web of confusion, which is why we have been calling for the government to move responsibilities for labelling and standards back to the FSA.”

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University also believes there is need for an urgent review of the changes made. “The scandal exposed how little knowledge even the most powerful companies have of what goes in to their food. The system put into place after mad cow disease has failed because central and local government enforcement has been quietly dismantled.”

The head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, said: “The January 2013 horsemeat incident has revealed a gap between what citizens expect of controls over their food and the effectiveness of those controls in reality. The government needs to remove the confusion and improve its understanding of potential food fraud and how intelligence is shared.”

Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Maria Eagle, called for a review of “the chaotic structure of food control put in place after the election”.

“It’s clear from this report that David Cameron’s botched departmental reorganisation created confusion about who was responsible. Added to this confusion was the complete failure of ministers to take seriously the possibility that meat was wrongly being passed off as beef, despite clear indications of an increased risk that this was taking place.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “The FSA and Defra are working together to tackle food fraud and address any confusion about our respective roles. Defra is responsible for policy on food labelling while the FSA is responsible for enforcement, including responding to incidents.”

Source: theguardian

3 Responses

  1. charles allan says:

    Although horsemeat is harmless it can be indicative of a lack of control over what goes into the food processing and restaurant business – eg what else is in a restaurant sausage that we don’t know about including drugs chemicals hormones etc.

  2. Michael J. Marsalek says:

    So WTF is a horsemeat scandal? Europeans have been eating horsemeat for decades experiencing no significant health problems. For sure, nobody ever got ‘ mad cow disease ‘ from eating horsemeat. There are those who claim that horses are routinely given drugs and hormones that may cause health issues; but the very same can be said about any other animal species processed for human consumption,especially beef. Cattle are routinely given Ractopanine or Optaflexx to promote greater muscle mass. Both drugs cause serious human health problems and one was voluntarily withdrawned from the commercial market. Chickens are given hormones to promote the development larger, fuller breasts. Over the years, parents fed their families more chicken because it was supposed to be a healthier and cheaper alternative to beef. So look around !!! Obesity is a huge problem in America and adolescent girls are developing large breasts than normal and statting puberty much earlier than normal. Though eating horsemeat is not for everyone, it is likely nowhere near as harmful as it is cracked up to be. Horsemeat is definitely a much less expensive and leaner protein source than beef. It is for this very reason that it is virtually impossible to purchase horsemeat for human consumption anywhere in the US. Horses sold for meat most often bring from less than $100 and can go as high as $250 at auction. The same weight cow sells for $1000 or more. Today there is a huge and growing wild horse population running loose in America costing the taxpayers countless millions of dollars If America ever gets to the point where it can’t pay its bills, perhaps horsemeat will be welcomed into the food chain.

  3. charles allan says:

    Horsemeat by itself is harmless unless it has contaminants . Avoid processed food , avoid anything with corn soya or rapeseed and their oils and all wheat products and all breakfast cereals except unprocessed oats. GMO will poison you.
    Eat eggs , fish and meats (preferably organic) and their fats and vegetables with virgin olive oil or butter. Avoid all sweeteners and soda drinks. Dont avoid salt it is absolutely necessary for every process in your body so salt to taste. Then you can see what your eating.
    Try sourcing local farmers produce. But Fish could become bad with Fukishima .
    Restaurants should be avoided unless you can see what you are eating.

    Does organic food cost much ? think of how much you spend at restaurants , the movies , cigs , holidays at disney etc , newspapers , alcohol , the gym , sports , make up , unnecessary fashions – add these up and you will come to much more than your mortgage payments.

    Avoid supplements – most are just dead chemicals that have no value and are even harmful.

    Why not be healthy instead with an organic ceasar salad etc. What’s more important than health. Good health will lead to spiritual health if you eat God’s food plain and simple.

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