WDP comment: Government’s position on horse meat scandal does not pass inspection
The horse meat scandal continues to have momentum and the potential to shock and surprise us. The minister most in the spotlight has so far managed to stay ahead of the gathering storm – but only just.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has the stiffest of political challenges if he and his party are to emerge unscathed from this particular difficulty.
Yesterday he was again attempting to keep ahead of the headlines when he met representatives of leading supermarkets and food retail trade bodies to press them to do more to restore public confidence in food.
Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons were among those confirmed to be attending the meeting in Westminster along with the Institute of Grocery Distribution and the Food and Drink Federation.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Mr Paterson also called for a Europe-wide overhaul of meat testing, saying the current system relies too heavily on trusting paperwork that comes with meat shipments.
Both are sensible and helpful responses to the horse meat crisis – but we should allow neither to blur our vision of the fuller picture. And in that fuller picture, the Government must share some of the blame.
Cast your mind back to the summer of 2010 when the Tories promised a bonfire of the quangos and set about dismantling the profligate instruments of the old Gordon Brown state.
The Food Standards Agency was a natural candidate for cutbacks. Its mission to inspect, advise and enforce food safety and hygiene would have posed a difficulty for the big food producers and retailers. Those in the new Government who advocated light-touch regulation across all sectors of business life would have been content to see the agency’s staffing levels shrink. The mantra was simple: do more – which tended to mean cut more – to make business easier.
The consequence of this approach is now clear to us. The complex food production network, which criss-crosses Europe, is incredibly difficult to police, and becomes even harder to monitor with fewer people to do the job.
It was always going to be likely that, with the wholesale slaughter of horses across the continent as recession hit the racing industry, some of that meat would enter the European network of abattoirs.
Mr Paterson and his colleagues in the Cabinet are not directly responsible for the fraudulent passing off of horse meat as beef but they must bear responsibility for making the crime harder to detect.