Horse meat scandal is a 'wake-up call', says Tiverton & Honiton MP Neil Parish
By Nick Lester, Parliamentary Correspondent
Proper food labelling and inspections of meat imports are needed in a bid to prevent a repeat of the unfolding horse meat scandal, a Devon MP has argued.
Neil Parish for Tiverton and Honiton said the food contamination crisis has served as a "wake-up call", as he stressed the need for 'traceability' of products.
He highlighted the British red tractor farm assurance mark which gave consumers confidence.
The Tory MP was speaking during a Commons debate as more cases emerged of horse meat being missold in processed food sold by British retailers.
Mr Parish said: "I wish to say clearly that we have not suddenly got to this situation, as these things have been happening for years.
"I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years, serving on its agriculture committee. Time and again, we said, "We want greater traceability. We want to be able to follow these products across Europe. We want to be confident that it is not just a paper trail and that we actually have physical inspection of this meat and meat product." None of that has happened. If there is a silver lining to this situation, it is that it is a wake-up call.
"We can therefore make sure we put in place a process whereby we identify the product and consumers can be absolutely confident that they are buying beef and not horsemeat.
"That leads me on to the fact that what has been happening is fraud—it is criminal activity—as we should be able to buy a beef burger in the shops, even a cheap one, and have confidence in it."
Mr Parish added: "We need to bring in a food labelling system that will clearly identify the country of origin of the principal meat ingredients in a processed product, so that we know where they come from and so that if we are concerned that they have come from other parts of Europe or across the world where we do not have the same confidence in the food chain, we will not buy that product.
"I urge Ministers, when they go to Europe, to make sure that we finally get proper labelling, so we can identify where our food came from. We can then act much more quickly to bring criminals to book."
The MP also called for proper checks to be carried out on imports rather than simply relying on paperwork.
"I am keen that we have proper inspections of the meat and meat products that come into this country, so that we can see what is in the lorries, which is otherwise signed off when it comes into the UK," he said.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson shared concerns that it was a paper-based system.
He said: "The problem is that there is too much faith - the certificate and manifest on the content of pallets is taken on trust and there is not enough testing of the material.
"We agree we can improve on the current system within the current arrangements by introducing some form of testing regime."