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Food Adulteration

Volume 559: debated on Thursday 7 March 2013

7. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers in the devolved Administrations on the adulteration of food in the UK. (146582)

I have been in regular contact with Ministers in the devolved Administrations to discuss the issue. Ministers from Scotland and Wales attended my meeting with the food industry on 18 February, where we made it clear that the adulteration of food is unacceptable and that consumers have to be the top priority. I most recently met Ministers in all the devolved Administrations at a pre-Agriculture Council meeting in Brussels on 25 February and the Welsh Minister briefly on Monday. I am grateful for their support.

Scotland has a high-quality food industry and it is important that its reputation is maintained. What steps is the Minister taking, along with the devolved Administrations, to look at the prevention of adulteration in areas other than those that we have seen so far? Clearly, we cannot predict criminality but we should make sure that we act proactively as far as possible.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to be proud of the quality of Scottish products, as we are, because of the high quality of the raw materials, their traceability and the thoroughness of our production systems. That is why this case must be sorted out. We cannot allow a small number of criminals to do huge damage to a key industry. We are discussing the issue of other types of adulteration with the FSA. That is particularly important to some minorities, so we will be looking to test for pork adulteration.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), who chairs the Select Committee, has been clear that the Government were caught flat-footed by the horsemeat scandal. In that case, how would the Secretary of State describe the Scottish Government’s response, given that they picked up the phone nearly a week after Asda began clearing its shelves?

I am not responsible for the Scottish Government. All I will say is that I would like to thank the Scottish Minister and the Welsh Minister for their steadfast support. They came down to the last big meeting I held with industry leaders, and we were all completely united on the need to sort out this criminal conspiracy in order to clear the name of British food making. We want to get exporting and pushing on to expand the industry. We will not have it held back by criminal activity.

Cross-contamination by horsemeat in every part of the United Kingdom could be stopped if we prevented the killing of horses in multi-species abattoirs. Does the Secretary of State not agree that the trade in horsemeat is fairly revolting and that Britain would be a better place if we had none of it at all? Let us kill the horsemeat trade altogether and we will not have to worry about contamination.

A small number of horses—about 9,000—are slaughtered every year in this country. I am not sure that abattoirs would be viable if they concentrated only on one species, but it is an idea that I would like to discuss with my hon. Friend and perhaps take further.

Has my right hon. Friend discussed with his Welsh and Scottish counterparts the fact that many of our constituents find this issue very distasteful, not only because of the thought of eating horsemeat but because of the certain knowledge that horses will be transported and slaughtered in appalling circumstances by shadowy people in those 23 countries?

I have discussed the issue with Commissioner Borg and other Ministers, because there is a significant trade in horses across the continent of Europe. My hon. Friend and his constituents are absolutely right: if they buy a product that is sold as processed beef, regardless of price, it should be processed beef. Any adulteration with any other material is a conspiracy to defraud the public, and we are determined to get to the bottom of it.

15. The export of Scotch beef and Scotch beef-based food products is vital for the manufacturing base in the Scottish economy. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Scottish Government to ensure that producers and consumers can have confidence in the products they buy? (146591)

My hon. Friend the Minister of State attended the 100th anniversary celebrations of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, and I have discussed the matter with Minster Lochhead. We both agree that we have a job to do, working closely with the industry, to promote strict traceability and production systems. I was interested to note that at the NFU conference last week in Birmingham that people really had their tails up because there is now an opportunity, with the public being so interested in the supply chain, to stress how good our industry is and how reliable our products are.