RETAILERS must be responsible for restoring consumer faith in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, Downing Street insisted last night, after ministers met with supermarkets to discuss the ongoing crisis in the meat industry.
Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons were among those who met UK environment secretary Owen Paterson, following warnings from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) last week that, despite 2,501 tests, the situation was “far from the full picture”.
“There is a job to try to address consumer confidence,” a spokeswoman for Downing Street said last night. “That is the responsibility of the retailers and the meat industry.”
Mr Paterson went on to say the government would work with industry to “absolutely make it clear that, when consumers buy a product, they get what they bought”.
The food retail industry is “absolutely determined” to restore confidence, he added, and is expected to publish the remainder of its test results on beef products this Friday. He said he hoped consumers took some reassurance that 99 per cent of the products already tested were clear of horse DNA.
“The industry today committed to work absolutely as hard as they can to get out the remainder of the results by this Friday and they will be announced by the FSA,” Mr Paterson said. “Some may be completed the following week considering the pressure there is on laboratory capacity.”
The head of the British Retail Consortium said laboratories were working “flat out” to get the test results completed.
Helen Dickinson, the director general, added: “Our members are confident that the vast majority of testing will be completed by Friday. We were pleased the secretary of state recognised the hard work of retailers in progressing their testing programmes so quickly. Retailers take their responsibilities very seriously.”
The horsemeat scandal emerged in mid-January after food inspectors in Ireland found horsemeat in some frozen beefburgers stocked by UK supermarkets including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.
It also emerged yesterday that the supplier of an Asda bolognese sauce that had been removed from shelves had restarted full production at its Bristol site, following a “deep-clean” at the weekend. Greencore said all other products from its factory had tested negative for horse DNA.
Richard Lochhead MSP, Scotland’s environment secretary, was also present at the meeting with retailers yesterday and said that the length and sheer complexity of supply chains used by supermarkets had to be shortened to restore faith in meat products.
“I highlighted that there is a need for supply chains to be shorter and easier to track and for high quality local produce to be used whenever possible” he said. “As testing continues it is reassuring that the vast majority of tests being carried out are negative for horse meat. However, we can not be complacent.”