Inquiry ordered after FSA official says he raised illegal horsemeat alarm in 2011

Agriculture minister was told that meat passport scheme was not working, claims former manager

The Government is tonight urgently investigating allegations that ministers were alerted as long ago as 2011 that illegal horsemeat was entering the food chain.

John Young, a former manager at the Meat Hygiene Service, which is now part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said he helped draft a warning letter to the former agriculture minister Sir Jim Paice. In it, the minister was told that the Government’s passport scheme – designed to prevent horse meat containing harmful drugs entering the food chain – was not working.

“Defra gave nearly 80 organisations the authority to produce passports and some of them are little better than children could produce,” he said. “It’s a complete mess.”

He claimed that as a result of the lax passport system there was no way of telling whether horses had been given the potentially dangerous anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, known as “bute”, before being slaughtered – and entering the human food chain either legally or illegally.

The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he had asked the FSA to go back through its records to establish what warning had been given.

Sir Jim said he had been unaware of any warning at the time, 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.”

Mr Paterson, who will hold a progress meeting with supermarkets and food suppliers tomorrow, said: “The problem we have is that under [European] regulation, food safety law is laid down by the Commission and too much of it is based on trust, and there has not been enough testing. I have to work with the system that I have inherited.

“I want to have a proper look at the system and within the constraints of European law I want to make sure that we do reintroduce more targeted testing and more random testing of products.”

But the head of the supermarket chain Iceland blamed the scandal on cost cutting by Government and local authorities, who he claimed were set on spending as little as possible on meat for schools, hospitals and prisons.

“Supermarkets are visible because they are on the high street but British supermarkets shouldn’t be blamed,” said Malcolm Walker.

“If we are going to blame somebody, let’s start with local authorities because there is a whole side to this industry that is invisible, that is the catering industry; it is massive business for cheap food and local authorities award contracts based purely on one thing: price.

“If you’re looking to blame somebody who is driving down food quality: it’s schools, it’s hospitals, it’s prisons, it’s local authorities.”

Mr Walker said he would personally not eat value meals but defended the supermarkets for not doing more testing for horsemeat themselves, saying: “Why would we? We don’t test for hedgehog either.”

Meanwhile Mark Price, the managing director of Waitrose, said the rising costs of rearing animals could have encouraged meat suppliers to “cheat”, either for their own “personal greed or to keep a company afloat”.

A Defra spokesperson said tonight: “The Secretary of State this morning asked the Chief Executive of the FSA and Defra officials to look into allegations that information about horse passports had not been investigated.

“From those investigations, it’s clear that Defra and the FSA have taken action on the issue of potential falsifying of horse passports, including individual enforcement action when information has been passed to us.

“In January 2012 Defra and the FSA increased checks on horse passports, meaning every horse was checked twice, and from last week no horse can enter the food chain until it is confirmed to be free of bute.

“The issues surrounding falsified horse passports are unrelated to the fact that horse meat has been fraudulently passed off as beef in a number of products.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015