The ongoing horse meat scandal in the UK and Ireland is very likely to prompt more and stricter legislation to ensure traceability, according to partner at UK law firm Roythornes LLP, Peter Bennett.
Bennett says that the discovery of undeclared horse meat in beef products has raised new questions about the industry’s traceability standards and can only lead to more regulation, despite government plans to shrink the role of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The UK’s coalition government has vowed to reduce red tape for business owners, but Bennett says that public outcry over the horse meat issue is likely to reverse any such intention for the food industry, particularly at a time when consumers are more interested than ever in where their food comes from.
“Plans to give food operators more responsibility for food safety and to downgrade the role of the Food Standards Agency to one of verification rather than inspection have raised concerns from within the industry,” he said via email.
“…Although it’s difficult to say at this stage as we’re still awaiting the final outcome of the investigations into the details of the case, it is almost inconceivable that no new regulatory action will take place.”
What that action would look like could range from temporarily tightening enforcement to introduction of a whole new set of legislation, he said.
“It’s our view that changes, when they come, will be toward the more formal end of this spectrum and will radically tighten operations, particularly for the MDM [mechanically deboned meat] producers and usher in a considerable harsher regulatory regime. Specifically we believe this would focus on tightening rules around traceability to ensure that documentation for all MDM carcass inputs are stringently observed.”
He added that producers that already operate to a high standard should not fear too much disruption.
“Let’s not forget that it is consumer confidence in producers’ standards which lies at the heart of a healthy market, without which the entire industry would grind to a halt,” he said.