Food labelling remains ‘disturbing’ a year after horse-meat scare

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ALMOST exactly a year after the horse-meat scandal broke, a newly published report on food monitoring conducted in West Yorkshire reveals that food labelling - or mislabelling - remains a major issue.

More than a third of foods sampled in extensive lab tests were found to be inaccurately labelled to “disturbing” levels.

The results of 900 sample tests by food analysts at West Yorkshire Analytical Services found 38 per cent of foods were mislabelled or not what they claimed to be.

The Morley-based labs - part of West Yorkshire Joint Services, which is funded by the five regional councils including Leeds - found problems including mozzarella that was less than 50 per cent cheese, ham on pizzas found to be made from poultry or “meat emulsion” and prawns that were 50 per cent water.

The research also said that some beef mince was found to contain pork and poultry, while a herbal “slimming” tea was found to be neither herbal or containing tea, instead it had high levels of a prescription slimming drug.

The findings come a year after the horse-meat scandal first emerged.

The furore led to suppliers and retailers across the UK and Europe being forced to remove products labelled as beef after test results revealed they contained varying quantities of horse meat - in some cases up to 100 per cent.

In the following months, there was a major slump in sales of supermarket meat products,

Speaking after the latest findings, West Yorkshire’s public analyst, Dr Duncan Campbell, said: “We are routinely finding problems with more than a third of samples, which is disturbing at a time when the budget for food standards inspection and analysis is being cut.”

According to consumer group Which?, the number of food samples taken to test whether they were what they claimed to be fell almost 7 per cent between 2012 and 2013, after falling 18 per cent the previous year. Which? said around 10 per cent of local authorities did no sampling of this kind at all last year.

Richard Lloyd, the executive director of Which?, said tougher penalties and more testing was needed. “No one wants to see another incident like the horsemeat scandal happen again and the rigorous enforcement of standards underpinned by effective levels of food testing is essential for restoring consumers’ trust in this industry,” he said.

The tests also found a third of fruit juices were mislabelled or did not contain what they said they did. Two contained additives banned in the EU which have been linked to behavioural problems in tests on rats. There was also a problem with counterfeit vodka made using antifreeze.

Dr Campbell told the BBC’s Today programme that officials were seeing “perhaps more serious breaches of the law laid on top of a rumbling amount of fairly minor problems”.

He added: “In the areas where local authorities are doing little or no routine sampling, problems such as the ones we are finding are not being discovered. A lot of food in the UK is distributed nationally but there is still a fair proportion where it is produced and sold locally and it is only by having local enforcement officers on the ground visiting those premises that those problems will be picked up.

“Also I’m sure there is a deterrent effect. If a business is perhaps under pressure and thinking of cutting corners and it’s aware that it’s not likely to have an inspection, it’s perhaps more likely to cut corners and substitute cheaper ingredients for more expensive ones and so on.”

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has recently published its latest report from the testing of beef products for horsemeat or horse DNA. No results found horse meat/DNA at or above the one percent threshold at which it must be reported. A total of 38,473 beef results tested for horsemeat/DNA have been submitted by the industry to the FSA since February 2013. Of these, 47 were positive.

The extensive programme of testing started in February 2013, at the request of the FSA, to check beef products supplied and sold into the UK food chain.

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