Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, has expressed his support for extending tests for horse meat in processed meat products across Europe for a further two months beyond March, following a key meeting in Brussels today.
Mr Lochhead was in Brussels for the meeting on the horse meat mis-labelling issue, which was held as part of the monthly EU Council talks and was the first opportunity for all 27 EU member states to discuss food fraud uncovered in past few weeks.
Fourteen countries across Europe are now affected by the mis-labelling fraud, with products being removed from shelves and withdrawn from outlets in both the public and private sectors.
Mr Lochhead also had discussions with his English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts – who represent a number of different parties – in Brussels today and he called on all parties in Scotland to recognise the work being done throughout the UK and across the EU to address the situation.
Speaking immediately after the meeting in Brussels Mr Lochhead said:
“EU Ministers discussed the option to extend the testing programme for a further two months beyond March and whilst no final decision has been taken, I spoke directly to the Commissioner to convey Scotland’s strong support for this. It is vitally important that the tests continue until we are sure we have the complete picture across Europe.
“The purpose of testing is to whittle out any mis-labelled food, and to trace and potentially prosecute those who have committed this fraud.
“To date, we have had only one positive test in the public sector in Scotland and results for the whole of the food industry announced on Friday showed there have only been six new positive tests across the UK in the last week of testing. In the food processing sector in Scotland 96 per cent of the inspections of meat processing premises have now been carried out, with no evidence to date of horse meat food fraud occurring in food manufacturing in Scotland.
“The low numbers of positive tests are reassuring and the vast majority of product withdrawals from supermarket shelves, food providers and the public sector across UK and Europe have been on a purely precautionary basis while further testing is carried out. This is an entirely responsible approach by the food services industry while they ascertain whether or not they have been the victims of food fraud.
“While we obviously cannot guarantee that there will be no further positive tests in Scotland, the overwhelming majority of tests already carried out have been negative for horsemeat. And although it is completely unacceptable that any food is not labelled correctly, we have to bear in mind that, based on current evidence, any health risks associated with having consumed horse meat are extremely low. This is crime and this is fraud, but it is not a health issue, and through these tests we are working to identify those responsible.
“Food fraud has been committed on an international level with more than half of Europe affected, and details of the scale of the fraud still emerging. It was good today to hear a number of EU ministers express their anger at what had happened and express their determination to improve EU controls including labelling of products containing meat ingredients and the transparency of the food chain.
“Everyone involved in the food industry in Scotland is determined to identify mis-labelled products and protect the world famous reputation of high quality Scotch meat.
“With an extended testing regime agreed we must now focus on restoring consumer confidence and ensuring the Scottish meat industry does not suffer due to the crimes committed or the irresponsible scaremongering taking place.”