Britain steps up timetable for tests

Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 00:00

Westminster:  The majority of results from thousands of tests on processed meat samples could be completed by Friday, British food secretary Owen Paterson has said, following a meeting with supermarket chiefs yesterday.

The timetable marks a significant acceleration on one offered last week by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which indicated it could take weeks for tests on up to 7,000 products to be completed. "The industry today committed to work absolutely as hard as they can to get out the remainder of results by this Friday, and they will be announced by the Food Standards Agency," Mr Paterson said.

His declaration came after the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) met in London with leading supermarket executives from Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons.

Last Friday, the Food Standards Agency said a quarter of the tests had been completed, adding it expected up to 7,000 more remained to be completed. However, it believed the majority of "the bad news to be front-loaded".

Earlier 10 Downing Street kept up the pressure on the supermarkets - which the British government believes have been far too silent during the crisis so far - saying they need to offer "reassurance" to customers.

"It's retailers who are responsible for making sure their products are what they say they are. We are going to be working with the industry and the FSA to learn any lessons and to see whether any changes are needed to reinforce the integrity of the food chain," a spokeswoman for No 10 said.

Asked about reports Defra ministers were alerted in 2011 that the horse passport system was inadequate, she replied: "In January 2012, Defra and the FSA increased checks in horse passports. There was a review in 2010 that Defra carried out of the passport system but because of changes in EU legislation, what we proposed could not be implemented."

The House of Commons is in recess this week, so Labour will find it more difficult to keep political pressure on Mr Paterson, who has faced a difficult time from Labour MP Mary Creagh.

Labour, in particular, insists that Defra was warned in 2011 that food labelling regulations were being breached after the introduction of an EU regulation which barred the use of tiny flecks of meat steamed from an animal's bones.

Meanwhile, a fifth of British adults have said they are buying less meat since the horse DNA scandal began, while two-thirds said they have lost confidence in food labels.