Resource cuts could lead to another horse meat scandal, NAO

British watchdog, the UK National Audit Office, (NAO) has released a report warning that weakened food controls caused by governmental changes could lead to another horsemeat scandal.

The budget cuts in testing have allegedly led to a loss of intelligence information at a time when reported food fraud has risen by two thirds since 2010, The Guardian reports.

NAO's report questions the nation’s capacity to respond effectively to future incidents considering that since 2010, only 29 public analysts remain out of 40, and four out of 13 labs have closed their doors.

In the report, the NAO found a dramatic increase in food fraud with one in six meat products failing tests for the presence of undeclared species in 2012.

"The government failed to identify the possibility of adulteration of beef products with horsemeat despite indications of heightened risk," said the NAO.

UK food policy was once under the control of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), however since the coalition government divided the duties between three separate entities; the FSA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department of Health (DH) – confusion surrounding how to tackle food safety issues, such as the horsemeat crisis, was extremely high.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO said that the deconstruction of food policy responsibilities caused ‘a gap’ between consumer expectations and reality.

"The January 2013 horsemeat incident has revealed a gap between what citizens expect of controls over their food and the effectiveness of those controls in reality. The government needs to remove the confusion and improve its understanding of potential food fraud and how intelligence is shared."

Executive director of the Consumer Association, Richard Lloyd said that food controls should be restored back into the hands of the FSA.

"The scandal exposed a web of confusion, which is why we have been calling for the government to move responsibilities for labelling and standards back to the FSA," said Lloyd.

The horsemeat scandal came to light in January this year when the Irish food safety watchdog discovered traces of pig and horse DNA in burger products sold in some of Ireland's leading supermarkets.


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