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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor