Agriculture ministers from six countries to meet over horse meat
Agriculture ministers from six countries, including Ireland and the UK, are to meet urgently over the horse meat scandal, which has raised major doubts about the effectiveness of the European Union’s food labelling rules.
The meeting was arranged in talks yesterday between Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and his British government counterpart, Owen Paterson.
Facing questions from MPs, Mr Paterson urged the British public to buy local produce, but insisted that all frozen meat products currently on sale are safe to do so until the UK’s Food Standards Agency rules otherwise.
“It is for retailers to get out there and show the public that their products are safe. It is up to retailers to prove that,” he told MPs during sharp exchanges, where he was accused of responding too slowly to the crisis.
Tests on all meat products will be completed by the end of this week, while retailers are putting in place extra inspections during processing.
Meanwhile, all retailers are now under an obligation to “let the FSA know as soon as they become aware of a potential problem”.
The European Commission, he said, has made clear that meat imports from other EU states cannot be banned because of deliberate mislabelling of food. Instead, public safety must be endangered before bans can be imposed, he said.
Equally, he pointed out to MPs that his Romanian counterpart has made very clear that the horse meat produced by two Romanian abattoirs was properly labelled when it left his country. “We have to be fair to all sides,” said Mr Paterson.
Defending his own performance, Mr Paterson said the FSA was set up by the Labour government as “an independent agency”, adding: “I have sought to respect its independence. They lead the operational response.”