DCSIMG

Horsemeat: Parents demand answers on school food

Parents and children are angry at the new horsemeat revelations. Picture: Toby Williams

Parents and children are angry at the new horsemeat revelations. Picture: Toby Williams

  • by DAVID O’LEARY and JOHN-PAUL HOLDEN
 

PARENTS have reacted with fury after it was confirmed horsemeat had been found in beef meant for city primary schools.

The tainted batch was taken from the shared kitchen of Pirniehall and St David’s primary schools. Oxgangs, Craigroyston, Forthview and Braidburn Special School were also supplied with the same frozen foodstuff.

With another round of test results on meat seized from school canteens due next month, parents are demanding to know how long it was being supplied to the schools, how widespread the contamination actually was and whether any children were fed the meat.

Their claims have been echoed by concerned politicians who are demanding to know if there was a deliberate attempt to bury the news on a bank holiday weekend – leaving anxious parents floundering without answers.

One parent said of the revelation: “It begs the question just how long has this been going on? Where was the beef from? Were children fed it? Surely they must have been. More importantly, what steps are being taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again? Is this the tip of a very large iceberg? I’ve been desperately trying to get answers but can’t because it’s a holiday weekend. It makes me sick to my stomach to think what my wee one has been eating.”

The frozen beef mince at the centre of the scandal has been found to contain between one per cent and five per cent horse.

The samples were taken in late February before catering supplier 3663 instructed sub-contractor Amey to pull the product following its own positive tests on March 8.

Parents and politicians have reacted angrily to the news and many only learned of the council’s scientists finding horsemeat in the 3663/Amey-supplied sample through radio and social media.

Since then their cries have fallen on deaf ears as key council officials and school staff are away for the Easter holidays.

Tracey Urwin, 38, has two children at Forthview Primary – Bethany, nine, who has school dinners occasionally and six-year-old Sam, who has packed lunches.

She said: “We haven’t had any letter sent out. The only reason I know anything it is because I get the council’s news alerts through Facebook.

“I want to know exactly when they knew about the result and why we weren’t told about it before. Were they just going to sweep it under the carpet and hope that nobody found out?

“There should be a public inquiry into this.”

Alison Haines, 40, mother of Robbie, seven, who eats school dinners two or three times a week at Oxgangs Primary, said: “As far as a letter goes, I haven’t received anything and I’ve spoken to several parents since this came out. No-one has received anything.

“It’s unacceptable we haven’t been told until now. I’ve been sending my child to get school dinners which I would not have done had I known about the result on March 8.

“There’s no trust anymore. I would like them to put into place steps to source food from local suppliers.”

Fellow parent Robert Pearson, 30, whose children, Gary, nine, and Gemma, seven, attend Craigroyston Primary, said: “Once again, I suspect the council have taken the approach that if we don’t talk about this, it will just go away.

“No-one I know has received any letter. When was it sent to parents? I want to know how long they knew about it and why nothing has come out about it before now?”

It has also emerged a councillor was inadvertently alerted to the fact horsemeat was present in the rogue beef – on a laboratory tour of the Edinburgh Scientific Services lab facility.

Councillor Chas Booth was touring the facility – where the testing was being carried out – on Thursday morning.

He claims the positive test result was discovered on Tuesday – some 48 hours before letters were sent to parents.

He said: “I was on a tour of the laboratory with fellow committee members when the matter of the positive horsemeat sample was raised. I was assured that parents would be fully informed through letter before anything was made public.

“This clearly hasn’t been the case as there are certainly a number of questions that remain unanswered and I urge the administration to be quicker in answering them.”

Fellow Green councillor Gavin Corbett was equally concerned about the announcement. He said: “To put this out on a holiday weekend while there is no-one on hand to answer any questions is unacceptable. For a matter such as this a person with scientific and technical knowledge and a senior council official to explain the chain of events should both have been on hand.”

Since February 14, scientists at the council’s laboratory have been undertaking a testing programme of meat products under the direction of the Food Standards Agency.

The results are expected next month – raising the spectre other schools could yet become embroiled in the scandal.

Cathy Fullerton, vice convener of education, said: “It’s very important to emphasise that there is no risk whatsoever to people’s health from consuming horsemeat, but obviously we all want to be certain that we know exactly what we are eating. This is why the council chose to seek extra assurance that our external suppliers were not providing any products containing horsemeat by carrying out our own testing.

“Parents can be reassured that we have taken absolutely the correct course of action in immediately making sure there is none of this frozen mince remaining in school kitchens.

“We have written to all parents in the six schools to let them know about this and will be happy to discuss any further queries they may have.”

Last month, the News revealed councils in the Lothians spend less than £1 per meal to feed primary school children. The main school meal provider in the Capital – Edinburgh Catering Services – spends 71p on each primary school meal.

THE KEY QUESTIONS

• Is the testing finished?

No. Since February 14, scientists at the council’s laboratory have been undertaking a testing programme of meat products under the direction of the Food Standards Agency.

In addition to this, the laboratory is also carrying out testing of processed meat products supplied to residential homes, leisure centres, tourist attractions, care homes and meat processing plants across the Capital. Results are expected next month.

• If the batch was positive on March 8, why has it taken so long to tell parents?

The positive result was obtained during tests by 3663. However, the city council wanted to wait until its own test results were confirmed before writing to parents.

It is understood that positive results were obtained by the council on Tuesday.

• How many other schools/local authorities in Scotland have had positive tests?

Not known.

• Who are 3663?

A leading UK food service distributor providing a total supply solution across the private and public sectors. 3663 is currently listed on the Superbrands 2013 league table of the UK’s strongest commercial brands.

DISHING THE DIRT ON THE CRISIS

In mid-January, Irish food inspectors announced that they had found horsemeat in frozen beefburgers made by firms in the Irish Republic and the UK, and sold by a number of supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl.

Since then, a number of stores and companies across Europe, including Findus and Nestle, have recalled beef ready meals, after tests found they contained horse DNA.

Mislabelled processed meat products have so far been discovered in the UK, Ireland, France, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany.

In February, a North Lanarkshire school kitchen tested positive for horse DNA in its burgers.

Also in February, the Food Standards Agency ordered the city council to analyse its entire food supply chain.

Two separate rounds of investigations were ordered by FSA Scotland. The first, which flagged this positive result, is part of an authenticity survey involving 28 local authorities in the UK.

The body asked every local authority in Scotland to visit approved meat processing establishments to conduct a full audit of compliance against food standard requirements.

 

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