Horsemeat report: delays ‘concern’ food industry

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Elliott: 'Up to government now'
Elliott: 'Up to government now'

Related tags: Food crime unit, European union, Professor chris elliott

The food industry has expressed concern over the fate of Professor Chris Elliott’s final report on the handling of the 2013 horsemeat scandal, which has been delayed until Parliament’s next session.

Elliott told FoodManufacture.co.uk the cabinet reshuffle that saw environment minister Owen Paterson – responsible for leading the government’s response to ‘horsegate’ – replaced by Elizabeth Truss had put back the report’s publication.

“The way things were, there was a publication date agreed with Owen Paterson, but Liz Truss said she wanted to go away and read the report,”​ said Elliott, professor of food safety and director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast. He added her approach was entirely understandable, stressing his dealings with Truss had been very positive.

‘Disappointment’

However, the delay had prompted increasing concern about the report’s future, he said. “What I have heard, and mainly from the food industry, there’s a lot of disappointment. The concern now is two things: people are worried that the interim recommendations will change in the final report and that the final report will never be published.”

The publication of the final report had been expected before the House of Commons summer recess. However, that occurred on July 22.

Elliott said he hoped the report would be published as early as possible after the Commons reconvened on September 1, but he said a firm date had not yet been set. “I delivered on time, on schedule,”​ he said. “It’s up to the government now.”

Elliott told delegates at the Institute of Food Science & Technology’s Jubilee Conference in Kensington, London, on May 14 that he believed the report would be published within the next month. However, he also warned that a senior civil servant had told him the report was so good the government would want it buried​.

The interim report​, published in December, contained 48 recommendations, including the creation of a new food crime unit and more responsibilities for the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Improved collaboration

Other proposals included the creation of an FSA crisis management plan and improved collaboration between the FSA, the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Referring to the report, one informed food safety technical specialist told FoodManufacture.co.uk Elliott had been asked to “tone it down”​, as some of his findings were at odds with government policy.

However, Elliott is thought likely to resist pressure to significantly water down his conclusions.

In view of the report’s “common sense”​, the source believed the government should not delay its publication any further: “I think it would be good if they got on with it.”

She recognised FSA concerns that it did not have the resources to adopt Elliott’s proposals for it to police food fraud by creating a food crime unit. But she believed it was the right body to take on the role, saying: “There are a lot of bodies around involved in food fraud and that’s part of the problem.”

Meanwhile, Humane Society International (HSI) has renewed calls for the European Commission to halt EU horsemeat imports, claiming rules outlawing imports of meat from horses treated with banned drugs were not being enforced.

‘Farcical’

These EU import requirements look great on paper, but the implementation thereof by non-EU countries has been farcical,” ​said Joanna Swabe, HSI EU director.

“Humane Society International has repeatedly warned that the measures implemented by Canada and Mexico to prevent meat from horses treated with banned substances, such as phenylbutazone, from entering the EU food system are fundamentally flawed and highly susceptible to fraud.

“Even the European Commission’s own audits have highlighted this, which makes it all the more outrageous that they have failed to take action to suspend the import of horsemeat products that do not meet EU food safety standards.”

Mounting evidence suggested firms from South America were also flouting the rules, said Swabe.

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