A LACK of convictions in the horse meat scandal will send a worrying message to the public, MPs have warned.
No prosecutions ending in conviction have been secured despite widespread outrage at horse meat passing into the food chain in 2013.
Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh has said the Government should consider it a matter of “regret” that those involved appeared to have got away with it.
She added that it was now important that a new food crime unit “will go to the heart of preventing food adulteration incidents in the future. We need to see real leadership.”
Former Environment Minister David Heath backed the environment select committee chairwoman, adding: “I find it enormously frustrating because frankly (former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson) and I did absolutely everything we could to mobilise and to energise enforcement agencies across Europe to make sure that this was traced. I can say now, because I’m free to do so... but I believe that at the root of this was large-scale organised crime – European-based organised crime.
“I believe that more could and should have been done by some other member states to get to the bottom of it.”
He added: “And the trouble is that will actually mean that those people were making an awful lot of money, and we’re talking about huge sums of money across the European nexus, will continue to do so and it means that the problem will arise again.”
York Outer MP Julian Sturdy called for a tougher approach to those who were found to have undermined food integrity.
He told MPs: “I urge that tough sanctions be brought to bear on anyone who would not only jeopardise the health of British consumers, but cheapen the reputation of the agricultural industry, which farmers have worked so hard to rebuild after the scares of the 1990s.”
Defra Minister George Eustice said: “Food fraud is totally unacceptable. It is a crime and this Government will not stand by whilst consumers are duped and deceived. Food and drink manufacturing is important to this country. It is our largest manufacturing sector and it is a significant contributor to economic growth.”
Last week, a Government-commissioned report recommended a national food crime prevention network involving unannounced audits and a zero-tolerance approach as a means of protecting consumers.