The UK government has rejected a suggestion that the response to the horse meat crisis was inadequate, insisting it was “swift and effective” with co-operation throughout Europe.
Responding to a committee statement around the role of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) it said the government response had “clear joined-up working between government departments, local authorities and the European Commission.
“The FSA took the lead, responding quickly and decisively when alerted by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland of its findings, initiating investigations into the supply chain, working with colleagues across government, the devolved administrations, local authorities and with its European counterparts.”
The FSA played a role in the UK being the first to submit a dossier to Europol, added the government.
It was responding to 19 statements made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee which reported to the House on Contamination of Beef Products in its Eighth Report of Session 2012-13.
The government also rejected the suggestion that testing was initiated without necessary thought or planning, which the committee said was made to the public without ensuring it could be delivered.
“The requirement for testing and reporting results was demanding, but reflected the urgency of this situation.
“This needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency to protect UK consumers and confidence in the UK food supply.”
There are at least seven official control laboratories (OCLs) undertaking the analysis of official samples for horse DNA, five UK food analysis laboratories and six commercial laboratories able to offer services on a commercial basis to industry, said the government.
Seperate products and production lines
The committee also recommended Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) consult on the implications of regulating to require separate production lines for different meat products but the government said this would require a “fundamental change”.
“A move to separate production lines would require a fundamental change to the existing operational structure and plant design which would entail significant cost to industry and may not be realistic in economic terms or proportionate to the benefit gained.”
The government said any ban on imported meat would have to be on the grounds of a “serious hazard to animals or to human health” and at the moment, that was not the case.
The committee had put forward the suggestion in a legal basis for a suspension of meat exports from a particular member state if the investigation identified the source of the contamination.
The government shared the view of the committee in relation to the food businesses having the primary responsibility for verifying that food is of the right quality and is correctly labelled: they need to review their own systems and test their products to demonstrate to consumers that they are in control of their supply chains.
“It is the responsibility of food businesses to satisfy themselves as to the provenance of the products they use, so the Government expects companies to be taking wider steps to assure authenticity.”