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DEFRA accused of ‘disembowelling’ FSA over horse meat

By Mike Stones , 18-Feb-2013
Last updated on 18-Feb-2013 at 11:47 GMT2013-02-18T11:47:31Z

The blame game over who was responsible for the deepening horse meat crisis intensified over the weekend, as a former chief adviser accused the government of “disembowelling” the Food Standards Agency (FSA), while the boss of supermarket chain Iceland blamed local authorities’ cut price buying plans.

Sir David King, former government chief scientific adviser, said the public needed “proper surveillance procedures” but those had been reduced by government spending cuts. Environment secretary Owen Paterson, who heads up the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), should be called to account for the cuts, said King.

“It is Owen Paterson who should be answering the challenges around the disembowelled FSA,” King told the BBC Radio 4 World at One programme yesterday. “If we are concerned about food standards, if we are concerned about whether what we are buying is what we think we are buying, it needs better action from the FSA.”

‘Put the public at risk’

However, the controls put in place since the BSE crisis of the late 1990s had been progressively reduced, he warned. “If you take the FSA and remove 800 inspectors from it, if you remove its arm’s length position from government – as it was originally set up after the BSE crisis – if you remove all that, you put the public at risk.”

No one from the FSA was available to respond to King’s criticism.

Meanwhile, Iceland chief executive Malcolm Walker said the blame for one of Britain’s worst ever food scandals should lie firmly with local authorities, whose cut-price sourcing policies he claimed had driven down food quality.

“If we are going to blame somebody, let’s start with local authorities because there is a whole side to this industry which is invisible – the catering industry, supplying schools and hospitals,” Walker told BBC News. “It’s a massive business for cheap food and local authorities award contracts based purely on one thing – price.”

‘The real culprit’

Walker added: “The real culprit [for the horse meat crisis] is the catering industry … those dodgy cutting houses and back-street manufacturers. They have been supplying products to the catering industry and a lot of this has been bought by schools and hospitals. That’s where the real problem lies – not with the supermarkets.”

Walker’s claims were rejected by Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association. Cockell said: “I think it is silly for him to claim that somehow prices is connected to budget. Also councils have nothing to do with catering contracts for hospitals. The price has nothing to do with horse meat in food.”

Cockell added: “I hope he knows more about retailing that he clearly does about local government.”

Both comments followed a spat between government and retailers last week, after sources close to Number 10 Downing Street accused the retailers of an inappropriate “silence during the horse meat crisis.

An open letter from nine retail, food manufacturing and foodservice firm bosses claimed they shared shoppers’ “anger and outrage” and were “working around the clock” testing beef products.

Paterson is due to meet retailers and trade organisations later today to review progress towards restoring consumer confidence in meet products.

Morrisons, Sainsbury, Asda and Tesco will be joining the discussions.

 

In other horse meat news

  • Horse DNA was discovered in cottage pies supplied to 47 Lancashire schools
  • Asda’s Chosen By You fresh Bolognese sauce tested positive for 4.8% horse
  • Some schools have removed beef from menus over fears of contamination with horse meat
  • Brakes confirms horse DNA found in one of its lasagnes supplied to Whitbread.

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