ROUTINE tests are not carried out on meat imports once they reach the UK, Defra has admitted to The Northern Echo.
Irish authorities this week confirmed that Polish suppliers were responsible for horse meat found in beefburgers on sale in the UK, after significant levels were found in “raw material” imported from Poland, which amounted to 20 per cent horse DNA relative to beef.
An investigation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) into how horse meat and pig meat came to be contained within beefburgers is still ongoing.
Several days ago one of the food processing plants implicated in the incident, Dalepak Hambleton, near Northallerton, was found to have no horse or pork in meat currently being used in food lines previously found contaminated.
But it has emerged the contamination may be linked to the lack of checks on meat imported into the country.
Whitehall officials have told The Northern Echo, that although it carries out intelligence-led testing on products, there are no routine tests to establish what unspecified meat is contained within a product.
They also rely on their EU counterparts to alert the UK authorities to any banned or suspect meat heading to this country. Defra wouldn’t routinely test for meat foreign consumers might find culturally acceptable, but might offend UK shoppers.
The revelation has come as top Whitehall officials are due to be hauled before the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee today (Wednesday, January 30) to answer questions about the horse meat scandal.
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, the chair and chief executives of the Food Standards Agency and representatives from Tesco and Iceland have all been called to give evidence on the traceability, labelling and food hygiene issues.
Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh, who is a member of the select committee, said she didn’t want to pre-empty today’s (Wednesday’s) questioning. But she wanted to be satisfied that the UK’s traceability rules were working.
She said: “It is obviously of concern. Most people would be horrified that they might have been serving burgers with 29 per cent horse meat.
“We don’t want people to be put off eating meat. We want people to have the highest confidence in eating meat in this country. We should all be buying our meat from butchers and farm shops so we know where it’s from.”
Meat imported from EU-approved premises must be accompanied by animal health and public health certificates.
But there are concerns that without random or routine checks in the UK, none of these measures will guarantee that unspecified meat won’t again end up being imported into this country for use in processed foods.
Defra routinely tests products to check food labelling is correct and carries out intelligence-based testing following tip-offs. But they do not seek to identify unlabelled meat contents without receiving intelligence first.
For example, if a product was labelled as containing 40 per cent beef and investigators found this to be true, they would not go on and establish what was in the remaining 60 per cent without somebody flagging up concerns.
The Government agency carries out stringent checks on animals, including horses, slaughtered in the UK are fit for human consumption in this country and others.
A spokeswoman for Defra said they relied on an EU-wide agreement and they “work as one”.
She said working with local trading standards officers, they test nearly 100,000 products a year and routinely worked with caterers and supermarkets to check food is labelled correctly and the meat is safe.
She explained: “We have to know what we’re testing for.
“When it’s intelligence-led they need to get a tip-off and know that there’s a problem. For example, if they’ve been told there’s bush meat in a product, they’ll go to the shop where they suspect it’s being sold and test for it.
“If they think there’s monkey in a product, they’ll test for monkey DNA.”