Owen Paterson says UK DNA tests can go beyond EU rules

Paterson: We have some latitude to do more testing

Owen Paterson has indicated he is prepared to get tough with food companies on testing and go beyond EU requirements to ensure more products are tested following ‘Horsegate’.

Although it would be down to Brussels to set the rules on testing, Paterson told The Grocer he believed there was scope for the UK to do more. Asked if he was prepared to legislate to force companies to test products, he said: “This is overall a European issue, but talking to Commissioner Borg early on about testing, he said the manner in which a member state enforces European law is up to them, so I think we have some latitude to do more testing here.”

He added he wanted to see “properly targeted, risk-assessed testing” by industry, backed up by “random testing” by, say, the FSA and local authorities.

To avoid another adulteration scandal, more tests were key, he said. “At the moment, the system is all based on trust in the paperwork. There is not a system of risk assessment and there is not a system of actual physical testing.”

At the height of the scandal, Paterson caused controversy by suggesting he had been told by Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland had acted on “local intelligence” when testing burgers. The FSAI has always said this was incorrect and it tested randomly.

Paterson insisted there was no contradiction between what he had said and the FSAI’s account. “Agencies act on information the whole time,” he said. “I’m not privy to the actual detail of what they knew and why they went into a certain factory at a certain time, but both the FSAI and the FSA here obviously act on information they’re receiving on a daily basis. I don’t see a contradiction.”