Food safety testing to be beefed-up

Standards agency calls for tougher testing and monitoring by councils after horsemeat scandal

Whitehall officials are to take a tighter grip of efforts to guarantee the “authenticity” of British food in a desperate attempt to rebuild confidence in the produce on supermarket shelves following the horsemeat crisis.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is to take joint control of an official body designed to improve work to test products, spot risks and prevent dubious items entering the food chain.

Trading standards officers will also be forced to improve their monitoring of food on sale, under an "action plan" to be discussed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) this week.

The report on "food authenticity" will lay out plans to protect the food chain by stepping up national co-ordination of testing and monitoring by local authorities, "setting priorities for sampling and analysis … targeting enforcement action, and opportunities for the FSA to play a stronger role in guiding activity".

The paper reveals that the number of food samples taken by councils has fallen in recent years, dipping by 14.6 per cent in the year to 2012 alone. And it warns the effectiveness of the testing programme could be threatened by government cuts.

The "action plan" is the first official acknowledgement of failures in the system set up to protect consumers from contamination of the sort that was exposed – through investigations in Ireland – in January. A government inquiry into the adulteration of processed beef products with horsemeat and pig meat, and an FSA review led by Professor Pat Troop, vice-chair of Cambridge University Hospitals, are expected to finish this year.

But the FSA proposal to "ensure effective consumer protection" reveals that the decision has already been made to have the Authenticity Steering Group, which spearheads efforts to prevent food fraud, run jointly by the FSA and Defra.

Andrew Rhodes, the FSA's director of operations, said part of the steering group's remit would be to "ensure that the authenticity programme is targeting the right priorities to make sure enforcers have the methods they need to address emerging food mislabelling and food fraud issues".

Mr Rhodes's report also concedes that the FSA needed to improve relations with the food industry, which had "sometimes been cautious in sharing intelligence on risks with us in case specifics emerge... that compromise their commercial interests".

But MPs claimed last night that the FSA's plans laid bare the failings of its approach to food fraud and mislabelling. Mary Creagh, the shadow Environment Secretary, said the paper was "a masterpiece of understatement to spare government ministers embarrassment for their hasty fragmentation of the FSA in 2010". She added: "Having taken 24 food authenticity staff away from the FSA, they are now cobbling together a joint secretariat to do the work on authenticity sampling with the 12 staff who remain in Defra.

"Ministers' actions left the country spectacularly underprepared for the horsemeat scandal, which is why the PM had to ask the FSA to co-ordinate the sampling work."

Anne McIntosh, a Tory MP and chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which is investigating the crisis, said: "We were critical of the FSA when we reported on de-sinewed meat last year, and we couldn't have been clearer in our warnings that there was a potential for... contamination."

Michael Walker, science and food law consultant to the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, said the FSA plan was "a proportionate response". But he added that it is up to local authorities to "support the scientific infrastructure" for testing.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?