Horsemeat test results on track, reports farming minister

UK farming minister David Heath met with meat processors and retailers this morning to discuss the ongoing horsemeat scandal.

The meeting was the second between ministers, food safety officials and industry on the issue of horsemeat contamination in beef products. Heath said it included discussions on a “plan of action” to deal with the crisis in the UK.

“I reiterated that the current situation is totally unacceptable and that retailers, caterers and other food business operators need to be completely open with their customers,” he said. “They assured me that they are on track to share meaningful test results by Friday and we discussed practical, pragmatics steps on how to take this forward.”

The first round of results of industry testing on beef products is due to be submitted on 15 February. Heath said the Food Standards Agency (FSA) would be informed “immediately” of any results that indicated contamination. “All results will be analysed and if there is evidence of fraud, then enforcement action will be taken against those responsible,” he added.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Heath stressed the importance of differentiating between trace contamination of beef products, which can happen accidentally due to mixed species processing, and gross contamination, which is suggestive of fraud. “We need to look at whether DNA contamination of less than 1% is anything other than environmental contamination that is below a certain threshold. We are taking advice on that, because it is very important that we do not suggest that something is adulterated when, for instance, it has merely been sitting on a butcher’s shelf next to the meat of another species. We have to be careful about that,” he said.

The meeting with food businesses came after the FSA announced yesterday that it had raided two UK meat establishments as part of its investigations into the horsemeat scandal.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson told Parliament this morning that the FSA had entered Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and Farmbox Meats in Llandre, Aberystwyth “with police support” as part of investigations into “the circumstances through which meat products, purporting to be beef for kebabs and burgers, were sold when they included horsemeat”.  

He confirmed that meat and paperwork, including customer lists, had been seized from the companies and said the Agency would involve the police further as necessary.

“The FSA will continue to work closely with the police and if there is any evidence of criminal activity, I will expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved,” he said.