Update: Processed beef products and horse meat

Published on Wednesday, 17 April 2013 12:25
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

Undeclared horse meat as well as traces of horse and pork DNA has been found in meat products. These include beef burgers, lasagne and bolognaise ready meal products contaminated by horse meat, and pork DNA found in a selection of meat pies labelled as Halal.

Industry and the government are conducting large scale nationwide testing.

In addition to the ongoing FSA and police investigations in this country, the UK government has been leading efforts to ensure a coordinated response across Europe. At our request the EU has agreed that tests for the presence of horsemeat throughout the food supply chain should be carried out in all countries. The EU and Europol also agreed with our suggestion that there should be a new intelligence sharing system to enable food authorities and Europol to coordinate investigations across the continent.

Food labelling and food safety

Our priority remains to protect UK consumers.

Products known to be affected have been withdrawn from sale. Anyone who has them in their freezer should return them to retailers as a precaution.

The Food Standards Agency has advised that unless there is advice to avoid a specific product, there is no reason for people to change their shopping habits. There is no reason to believe that any processed beef products currently on sale are unsafe.

Consumers have a right to expect that food is what it says on the label. The presence of unauthorised ingredients cannot be tolerated, especially when those ingredients are likely to be unacceptable to consumers, or where there is any conceivable risk to human health.

Who is responsible?

Food retailers, manufacturers and suppliers are legally responsible to make sure their food is labelled correctly.The FSA leads on food safety policy; Defra leads on food authenticity policy.Under its Food Authenticity programme Defra develops testing methods to check whether a product has been mislabelled or contaminated, which are then deployed by trading standards.

Testing

As part of their routine testing, the FSA and local authorities' trading standards teams carry out more than 90,000 tests every year for a wide range of potential food safety and fraud issues using a risk-based approach.

FSA is now requiring a more robust response from the food industry in order to demonstrate that the food it sells and serves is what it says it is on the label. Food businesses are being required to conduct authenticity tests on processed beef products, such as beef burgers, meatballs and lasagne, and provide the results to the FSA. And major retailers and distributors have been asked to publish test results every three months through the Food Standards Agency, to ensure openness and transparency in the system for the benefit of consumers.

In addition, the FSA is conducting a national survey of a range of beef products available to UK consumers. The companies that supply schools, hospitals etc are part of our sampling programme. Guidance has been issued to public institutions about meat products.

Local authorities are also carrying out a survey to provide information about the possible presence of horse or pig DNA in a range of beef products available to UK consumers. It also aims to identify and understand factors that may lead to the presence of meat species that are not labelled as an ingredient, so that this can be explained, eliminated or correctly labelled. 28 local authorities across the UK will take a total of 224 samples in accordance with a detailed protocol.

The samples will be taken from pre-packed products at retail that claim to be beef or beef combined with other labelled meat species, including burgers, sausages, meat balls and minced beef. Fresh, chilled and frozen products will be sampled, as well as products imported from Third Countries. The aim is to select products that are representative of goods on the market. The samples will be taken in such a way that, if necessary, enforcement action can be taken to protect consumers.

On 13 February the FSA announced that the survey will be extended to cover ready meals at retail, including catering establishments and wholesale supply to schools, prisons and hospitals. Each of the 28 local authorities taking part will collect a further 5 samples.

The FSA will publish the results from this survey in March 2013.

The FSA announced, on 19 February, that it has expanded its UK-wide survey of food authenticity in processed meat products being carried out through local authorities. Further details are available on the FSA's website.

Controls on imports

Food imports from countries outside the European Union must meet food safety and food standards requirements equivalent to those for UK produced food, and are subject to checks by local and port health authorities at UK ports to ensure they comply. The port health authorities are accountable to their local authorities

Imports to the UK of meat and other products of animal origin from outside the EU must enter the UK at designated Border Inspection Posts where they are subject to veterinary checks to ensure import conditions have been met. All consignments are subject to documentary and identity checks and a prescribed percentage of consignments are subject to physical checks.

Existing legislation (the "Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations 2011") would permit us to ban imports if there was a serious threat to public or animal health. A ban would only be brought in if there was evidence of a risk to human health. At the moment there is no evidence of a risk to human health.

Source: Defra

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