European food test overhaul urged
Published 17/02/2013 | 05:51
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has called for a Europe-wide overhaul of food testing in the wake of the horse meat scandal.
The current system relies too heavily on trusting paperwork that comes with meat shipments, Mr Paterson told Sky News.
He spoke as the chief executive of one supermarket traded criticism with the Local Government Association after accusing councils of helping drive down the quality of food used in public sector contracts.
Mr Paterson said: "The whole problem we have is that the system ... which is laid down from above trusts the paperwork. So it trusts that the pallet conforms to the piece of paper. No-one checks what is on the pallet often enough, no-one checks what is in production often enough, no-one checks the finished product often enough.
"We have agreed in this particular issue there will be Europe-wide testing for horse DNA, there will be Europe-wide testing for bute, which is a major advance. When this is through I want to have a proper look at the whole system."
Mr Paterson also said he had asked the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to investigate claims that Government ministers were warned in 2011 that horse meat was illegally entering the human food chain.
John Young, a former manager at the Meat Hygiene Service, now part of the FSA, told the Sunday Times he helped draft a letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in April that year.
But he told the paper the letter to former minister Sir Jim Paice on behalf of Britain's largest horse meat exporter, High Peak Meat Exports, which warned that flesh with possible drug residue getting into food could blow up into a scandal, was ignored.
In the letter the company warned the Government that its passport scheme designed to stop meat containing the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, getting into the food chain was not working, calling it a "debacle". He said: "Defra gave nearly 80 organisations the authority to produce passports and some of them are little better than children could produce... It's a complete mess."
Sir Jim said he did not remember seeing the warnings, telling the Sunday Times: "If this information was in Defra and was not being acted upon, it warrants further investigation. I would like to know why on earth I was not being told about it."