Large retailers should be made to carry out regular DNA tests on all the meat products that they sell to ensure their food contains the ingredients they advertise, a committee of MPs concluded on Monday.
In its report into the recent horsemeat scandal, the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said supermarkets should be forced to report their findings to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) with a summary published on the retailer’s website.
It added that the cost of the additional testing should be borne by retailers and not passed on to consumers. The MPs also condemned the slow pace of the investigation into the horsemeat scandal, with no prosecutions six months after the problem was first revealed.
They said that the Government should consider reversing changes made in 2010 that brought the FSA back within Government control – suggesting that this might have hampered its efforts to get on top of the issue.
The MPs acknowledged horse meat contamination was limited to a “relatively small” number of beef products sold in the UK, with 99 per cent of those tested containing no horse DNA.
Across the EU as a whole, 4.66 per cent of products tested were found to contain more than 1 per cent horse DNA. But it expressed “surprise” that in EU-mandated tests, 14 out of 836 samples of horsemeat from the UK tested positive for the painkiller bute – the highest number of positive tests in the EU.
The committee said there were clearly “many loopholes” in the system of horse passports and called for assurances that horse movements within the UK and between the UK and Ireland were being properly monitored.
“Retailers have a clear responsibility to ensure the products they sell are accurately labelled,” they concluded. “While some retailers may have been misled, those serving large sectors of the market need to ‘up their game’ and verify with greater accuracy the assurances of their suppliers. There must be regular, detailed tests on all meat or meat-based ingredients which form part of a processed meat product.”
They added that while they welcomed the commitment of some supermarkets to carry out DNA tests on meat products, this needs to be made mandatory. “We recommend that this be made compulsory for large food retailers, with appropriate penalties imposed for those who fail to do so,” they said.
The committee’s chair, Anne McIntosh, said the evidence they had seen suggested there had been a complex network of companies trading in and mislabelling beef or beef products which she described as “fraudulent and illegal”.
“Although the fraud proved not as extensive as originally feared, it has reduced consumer confidence in frozen and processed meats,” she said.
“Retailers and meat processors should be more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration. Regular and detailed DNA tests are needed on all meat or meat-based ingredients which form part of a processed or frozen meat product. Consumers need to know that what they buy is what the label says it is.”