Horsemeat: Contamination Is 'Breathtaking'

Consumers have been "cynically and systematically duped" for profit over the horsemeat scandal, a report by influential MPs says.

The scathing finding comes as a YouGov poll for Sky News reveals that one in five people have changed the way they shop as a result of the widening meat contamination problem.

The Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee condemned the Government's "flat-footed" handling of the horsemeat scandal, saying its ability to respond had been weakened by cuts to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The committee says evidence of widespread unscrupulous behaviour by elements of the food industry raises wider concerns about the safety of the contaminated products.

"It seems improbable that individuals prepared to pass horsemeat off as beef illegally are applying the high hygiene standards rightly required in the food production industry," it said.

"We recommend that the Government and FSA undertake a broader spectrum of testing for products found to have the highest levels of contamination ... to provide assurances that there is no other non-bovine DNA or any other substances that could be harmful to human health present."

The warning comes as German supermarket chain Real said it has found traces of horsemeat in frozen lasagne.

The company said in a statement on its website that it had already taken the frozen TiP lasagne off the shelves as a precautionary measure last Friday.

Meanwhile, EU ministers agreed on Wednesday night to the random testing of meat products for the horse anti-inflammatory drug bute as well as for horse DNA.

The committee was also highly critical of the way the Government had dealt with the scandal since the discovery last month of horsemeat in a series of beef products sold by some of the country's biggest supermarket chains.

"Whilst ministers are properly responsible for policy, the FSA's diminished role has led to a lack of clarity about where responsibility lies, and this has weakened the UK's ability to identify and respond to food standards concerns," it said.

"Furthermore the current contamination crisis has caught the FSA and Government flat-footed and unable to respond effectively within structures designed primarily to respond to threats to human health."

It called for the FSA to be given statutory powers to require producers to undertake testing, and warned ministers that they should not "at this time" propose to reduce the labelling standards applied to British food.

Committee chairman Anne McIntosh described the scale of the contamination in the food chain as "breathtaking" and warned that restoring consumer confidence would take time and money.

"The Government has a role to secure the correct balance between affordable food prices and effective regulations that require transparency and quality," she said.

"The consumer cannot be left to face a Catch 22 where they can either pay for food that complies with the highest standards of traceability, labelling and  testing or accept that they cannot trust the provenance and composition of the foods they eat."

The YouGov/Sky News poll found that of the one in five people who are buying differently, 58% said they had completely abandoned processed meats.

A third of the nearly 2,000 people surveyed said they had stopped buying cheap ranges and now favour more expensive processed meat.

As for who they blamed most, nearly half - 49% - said meat processors were most at fault, while one in five said food manufacturers carried responsibility.

But supermarkets seem to be largely off the hook, with only 10% of people saying they are to blame and even fewer pointing the finger at the FSA or the Government.

One shopper told Sky's Tom Parmenter she now refuses to buy processed ready meals for her two children.

Sharon Cummins, from Slough, said: "It is affecting everybody because it is all just lies.

"The thought of eating something like a horse - it is there, that picture is in your head: What am I eating?"

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