The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is investigating claims government ministers were warned 18 months ago that horsemeat was entering the food chain.
A Sunday newspaper reported that John Young, a former manager at the Meat Hygiene Service which now comes under the FSA’s remit, had drafted a letter to ex-farm minister Jim Paice, warning of the problem in November 2011.
Mr Young said the letter warned the government its horse passport scheme, designed to prevent horsemeat from entering the human food chain, was not working and passports were being faked to allow animals to be slaughtered for their meat.
The scheme was designed to stop the horse painkiller bute, also known as phenylbutazone, getting into the chain.
“If this information was in DEFRA and was not being acted upon, it warrants further investigation. I would like to know why on earth I was not being told about it.”
Former farm minister Jim Paice
Sir Jim told The Sunday Times he could not remember the warnings. “If this information was in DEFRA and was not being acted upon, it warrants further investigation. I would like to know why on earth I was not being told about it.”
DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson said the FSA was scouring its records to see what had happened at the time.
Mr Paterson is due to convene a further meeting with leading food businesses, trade bodies and the FSA today (Monday) to urge them to complete DNA testing of food products by the end of next week.
On Friday (15 January), UK authorities revealed the results of DNA testing of beef products.
Of 2,015 tests carried out on beef products, 2,472 established no meat content above 1% horsemeat, according to the FSA.
The 29 positive tests involved products that had already been identified as carrying horsemeat, the government agency said. The results of another 962 tests are still unknown.
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