The food retail industry is “absolutely determined” to restore confidence in its products following the horse meat scandal and is expected to publish the remainder of its test results on beef products this week, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said yesterday.
Mr Paterson spoke after meeting representatives from Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons at Westminster, along with the Institute of Grocery Distribution and the Food and Drink Federation.
He said he hoped consumers took some reassurance that 99 per cent of the products already tested were clear of horse DNA.
“The industry today committed to work absolutely as hard as they can to get out the remainder of the results by this Friday and they will be announced by the Food Standards Agency,” Mr Paterson said. “Some may be completed the following week considering the pressure there is on laboratory capacity.”
The Environment Secretary said he would meet industry figures regularly to ensure consumers were getting sound products.
“There was absolute determination in the industry to restore confidence in their products and I am pleased to say we look forward to meeting on a regular basis to absolutely make it clear that when consumers buy a product, they get what they bought,” he said.
The head of the British Retail Consortium said laboratories were working ‘‘flat out” to get the test results completed.
Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s director general, said: “The labs are working flat out and our members are confident that the vast majority of testing will be completed by Friday. We were very pleased that the Secretary of State recognised the hard work of retailers in progressing their testing programmes so quickly. Retailers take their responsibilities very seriously and are doing everything they can to maintain consumer confidence and increase surveillance.
“Members are meeting every day with the Food Standards Agency and working around the clock to understand what has happened and act on lessons learned. It’s clear that there will be things that need to change for the future as a result of these incidents. Retailers are scrutinising their systems and processes, alongside intelligence gathering and sharing to identify practical improvements that will turn the lessons learned into action.”
A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “The meeting was productive and shows how the industry is pulling together to tackle the issues with Government and the FSA. Whilst Sainsbury’s has not been affected, with no horse meat found in any of our products, we are fully committed to playing our part. We have used DNA testing for over a decade, and have a very comprehensive approach to quality control and product testing across all of our ranges.”
Mr Paterson has already called for a Europe-wide overhaul of meat testing, saying the current system relies too heavily on trusting paperwork that comes with meat shipments.
He also said he had asked the FSA to investigate claims that Government ministers were warned in 2011 that horse meat was illegally entering the human food chain.
Tests on 2,501 beef products last week revealed 29 positive results, relating to Aldi’s special frozen beef lasagne and special frozen spaghetti bolognese, Co-op frozen quarter pounder burgers, Findus beef lasagne, Rangeland’s catering burger products, and Tesco value frozen burgers and value spaghetti bolognese.
Pub and hotel group Whitbread pulled lasagne and burgers from their menus after revealing it had become the latest company to admit horse DNA had been found in its food. Horse meat was also discovered in school dinners, with cottage pies testing positive for horse DNA sent to 47 Lancashire schools before being withdrawn.
One of the key people embroiled in the scandal sold meat contaminated with tape worm parasites and an abscess full of pus to an undercover reporter nine years ago, it has been alleged. The trader, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was filmed during an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches in 2004 with the scandal also being the subject of an episode last night. The same meat trader also admitted dealing with “smokies” – whole sheep blowtorched to give a barbecue flavour, a process which is illegal due to the health risks, and ran a butcher’s shop where conditions were described as shockingly unhygienic.