Slow, badly executed, indecisive and poorly communicated - watchdog rapped for 'wait-and-see' handling of horsemeat crisis

Some of regulator's staff  had 'limited experience' of food-safety crises, official report concludes

Environment Editor

The government food safety watchdog's handling of the horse-meat crisis was slow, badly executed and indecisive, the first investigation into the scandal has found.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) reacted with a "hesitancy" that stemmed, in part, from "a lack of appreciation of the potential impact" of the first identified case of horse meat being substituted for beef in the UK in February, an independent report concluded.

Once the problem was identified, FSA staff - a number of whom were found to have "limited experience" of major food-safety incidents - took a "wait and see approach" rather than decisive action, said the report's author, Professor Pat Troop, the vice-chairwoman of Cambridge University Hospitals and a former deputy chief medical officer for the National Health Service.

"The reasoning appeared to be that there was only one company with a product with significant contamination, so it may be a 'one-off'," said Prof Troop, who was commissioned by the FSA. "The alternative approach might have been 'there is one major well known company involved … so might others be?'"

She added: "In general, it has been shown that it is wiser to work to the latter and scale up accordingly, otherwise an organisation can find itself running to catch up."

Mary Creagh, the shadow Environment Secretary, said the report showed that the Government had hoped the horse-meat crisis would simply go away. "[The Farming minister] David Heath told me we must be very careful not to talk down the British food industry when I brought it up. The Government just hoped it would all go away, taking a 'a wait and see approach' when it should have taken pre-emptive action."

Ms Creagh, the Labour MP for Wakefield, also criticised ministers for "fragmenting" regulation of the food industry, which she said slowed down its response in those "critical early days".

Professor Troop found that the  crisis was exacerbated by the Government's decision in 2010 to transfer responsibility for food labelling and authenticity from the FSA to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - but only when it was not a safety matter. These changes caused a good deal of confusion, with many parties  unsure whether the FSA or Defra was in charge, Professor Troop added. Her report called for better use of intelligence across the food industry, with local authorities, government departments and the FSA developing an intelligence management system to identify  future risks. It also implied that the FSA was not very effective at securing evidence that could be used to identify and prosecute criminals.

"The incident demonstrated the limitations in the powers of the FSA, for example in power of entry into food premises, which could lead to loss of evidence if papers are moved elsewhere. These powers should be reviewed to ensure action can be taken in a timely way," the report said. "Although generally forthcoming in this incident, when investigations of this size, scale and complexity are required any lack of co-operation could have had a significant detrimental impact."

Ms Creagh said: "The weaknesses this report highlights may mean that no prosecution is ever brought for what was, probably, the largest consumer fraud ever committed against the British public."

The FSA, which quietly slipped out the report at the end of the working day on Friday, declined to comment on its findings, although it is expected to address the issues in the coming days. Shoppers have dramatically changed the types of food they buy since horse DNA was first found in burgers on sale in supermarkets such as Tesco on 16 January.

News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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: IT Cloud Support Engineer

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a team player who likes...

Recruitment Genius: Skilled Machinist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled machini...

Recruitment Genius: Toolmaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled toolmak...

Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; up to £55k

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game