Ban on British meat product ban linked to horsemeat scandal

 

A sudden clampdown on a British abattoir product that previously filled cut-price burgers and pies may be largely responsible for the horse meat scandal, it was claimed today.

Suppliers were forced to seek cheap alternatives abroad when European regulators refused to recognise the product, known as de-sinewed meat or DSM.

The ruling came as a bombshell because it meant beef products containing DSM could no longer be sold.

Just two days notice was given before the change occurred in April last year.

Expensive "real" meat from British sources - in the form of fine mince - was not an option because of pressure from retailers to keep prices down, according to a leading food consultant and former member of the Food Standards Authority.

The only alternative was to seek out new sources of continental meat that were cheap enough to satisfy the supermarkets.

Dr Mark Woolfe, who was in charge of food authenticity at the FSA until 2009, said: "It was very, very badly done, I thought.

"I think there was an obvious risk. If you take a large chunk of raw material out of the market people have got to find alternative supplies.

"In principle there shouldn't be anything wrong with going to Europe because the same laws cover the whole of the EU. But in practice the longer and more complex the food chain, the more difficult it is to control. I think that's something we've learned the hard way quite recently."

Speaking at a news briefing in London, Dr Woolfe said he thought the EC ruling was a major factor behind the appearance of horsemeat in beef products.

Prior to the decision, thousands of tonnes of DSM had been used by the UK meat processing industry each year, he added.

He suggested that lamb products might also be at risk of contamination since many of them had also previously contained the material.

DSM was introduced in around 2000 as a cheap and plentiful filler for meat products.

It is produced by scraping meat residue off carcasses and then removing the sinews and bone fragments.

But European Commission inspectors ruled that to comply with EU law, DSM had to be reclassified as mechanically separated meat (MSM).

This is an even more basic product made by forcing residues through a sieve under pressure. The result is a material that resembles pink toothpaste.

Under British labelling regulations, MSM cannot be described as beef, lamb or any other kind of meat. Products made with the material must clearly be labelled as containing MSM. In addition, there are rules about minimum level of meat content in meat products.

As a result it was no longer possible to sell products largely composed of de-sinewed meat.

Dr Woolfe criticised supermarket chains for putting pressure on suppliers and not questioning the source of the cheap ingredients replacing DSM.

"Retailers seemed to be very unconcerned about this change at the time from what I can gather," he said.

"I think they should have questioned, if these materials were not going to be used, what (new) raw materials are going to be used. Maybe they should have been a little bit more vigilant."

He added: "Lets face it, on value products they squeeze the suppliers. They give them very low margins.

"They weren't prepared to give more money when this thing occurred so they forced suppliers to look for alternative supplies of meat to DSM."

Dr Woolfe believed pressure from supermarket chiefs also helped to kill off an FSA surveillance committee which gathered intelligence on rogue suppliers.

"I don't think the higher management of the retailers particularly liked our name and shame policy - they felt it was food enforcement by the back door," he said.

After 2005 the agency wound down its surveillance operations which were taken over by local authorities.

An FSA spokesman said: "The problem here is either gross negligence or criminal activity, potentially across Europe. We're not aware of any evidence to suggest that the reclassification of DSM as Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM) in the UK has lead to the contamination of beef products with horsemeat.

"Regardless of financial pressures that may have arisen from the DSM moratorium, the food industry is required to ensure their products are legally produced, safe to eat and are what they say on the label. There is simply no excuse for substituting beef for horsemeat."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Buyer

£19000 - £21225 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Duties will include assisting t...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Membership Manager

£35 - 38k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Advisor / Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This position will in the main ...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the top Cosmeceutical br...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks