Food safety officials in England, Scotland and the EU have all revealed measures to step up the detection of food fraud, in the wake of the horse meat scandal.
In England, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed plans yesterday (February 19) to expand its meat testing survey to include a total of 514 products. The tests will be carried out by local authorities.
The plan involves three stages, of which two are already underway.
Phase one: 224 samples of raw minced beef products − including burgers, minced beef, beef sausage and meat balls − are being checked for horse and pork DNA. This phase is already in action.
Phase two: 140 samples of beef-based ready meals − including frozen, chilled or canned lasagne, chilli con carne, cottage pie, ravioli, cannelloni and spaghetti bolognese − are being checked for horse and pork DNA. This phase will be completed by February 22.
Phase three: 150 samples will be checked for horse DNA, as part of an European Commission (EC) survey. These include products marketed or labelled as containing beef as a major ingredient such as minced meat, meat products and meat preparations (such as kebabs with seasoning). The tests will include products such as gelatine, beef dripping, stock cubes, steak, stewing steak and ready meals containing beef that is not minced. This work will begin on February 25.
The FSA pledged to publish the results from all three phases of the study, including brand names.
“Initial findings will be available from the end of February and the FSA will disclose any formal action taken in April,” it said.
New stand-alone food standards body
Meanwhile, the Scottish government is to set up two expert groups. One will advise on any changes required to the FSA in Scotland before the creation of the new standalone food standards body in Scotland.
The second will undertake the Scottish food industry’s work on traceability and provenance. Quality Meat Scotland will be asked to look into extending the Scotch label into the processing sector.
Announcing the new groups, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead confirmed that half of meat processing premises in Scotland had so far been inspected and no evidence of horse meat had been found.
Lochhead said: “With almost 50% of meat processing premises inspections having been completed, this is very reassuring. However, we know we must not be complacent and remain vigilant as these inspections continue.”
Earlier this week, the EC approved an EU-wide plan to investigate food fraud. The project was designed to enhance consumer confidence after the horsemeat scandal, said officials.
“The EU will grant financial support to Member States which carry out this plan at a rate of 75%. The controls are to start immediately, running for one month and may be extended for a further two months,” according to an EU statement.
The plan has two aims:
- To establish the presence of unlabelled horse meat in food. The plan includes controls, mainly at retail level, to detect the presence of unlabelled horsemeat. About 2,250 samples – including 10 to 150 from each Member State – will be analysed.
- To detect possible residues of phenylbutazone, or bute, in horse meat. The plan foresees the testing of one sample for every 50t of horse meat. Member States will carry out a minimum of five tests.
The EC pledged that the testing results – such as information on sampling, type of analysis and follow-up controls – would be published regularly.
Member States have been asked to submit their first reports on April 15.