The horse meat scandal has been reignited after the food industry became embroiled in a dispute with the Government safety regulator over the latest batch of results.
For the first time testing findings carried out on behalf of the Food Standards Agency are being challenged.
While the results of the industry’s own testing programme have been disputed in the past, the decision to contest those performed by trading standards officers is unprecedented.
“People need to know which food companies are challenging the Government’s official test results,” said Mary Creagh, Labour’s environment spokesman.
“Consumers deserve to know which products are under scrutiny and why companies need to own up to what has gone wrong and not cover it up.
“This scandal has a long way to go.”
Anne McIntosh, chairman of the Environment Select Committee, said: “The testers are independent and trained to the highest standards.
“I would have thought the companies were very ill-advised to dispute their findings.”
Tony Juniper, the author and environmental campaigner, was mystified by the industry’s stance.
“If I was running a food company, I would not be inclined to shout too loudly. Public confidence in food is getting worse.
“The longer the industry prevaricates, the worse it will be for them.”
Barry Gardiner, a Labour member of the House of Commons Environment Committee also questioned the industry’s decision to dispute the Agency’s findings.
“I would like to see the scientific basis on which they are contesting this,” he said.
“There is no point in retailers arguing with politicians and officials. The only basis on which they can contest this is science.
“The Agency is science based and I would go with them until the industry brings its own scientific evidence.”
In all five products are in dispute – three of which are suspected of containing more than one per cent horse DNA and two with more than one per cent pig meat.
The Food Standards Agency, which declined to disclose details of the products involved, said four had already been removed from the shelves. The status of the fifth was unconfirmed.
A spokesman for the agency said it was still trying to ascertain whether its advice that any product which is under suspicion should be taken off the shelves had been adhered to.
The spokesman declined to say whether the companies disputing the test findings were retailers, wholesalers or processors.
These five products will be subjected to a further test, which will be carried out by an independent analyst agreed by the retailer and the local authority.
They formed part of 362 samples subject to testing by the Agency. Of these, another two – a Whitbread burger and IKEA meatballs were confirmed to contain horse DNA above the one per cent threshold.
Three other products – ASDA spaghetti and meatballs; ASDA beef cannelloni and Apetito beef lasagne – had more than the permitted level of pig meat.
Earlier this month the latest results from the industry’s more extensive testing programme showed that 44 samples out of 5,430 products examined had tested positive for horse with an other 310 investigations still under way.
The horse meat scandal has shown little sign of abating with two more fresh reports last week.
Lancashire County council told the Agency that it had identified 100kg horse meat imported from Hungary labelled as beef.
On Friday testing Testing carried out by Powys County Council, as requested by the FSA, has shown that three samples of beef burger products made by catering supplier, The Burger Manufacturing Company (BMC), tested positive for at least 1% horse meat.
While the scandal has mainly involved imported meat – largely from Romania and Poland – last month the Agency closed a slaughterhouse in West Yorkshire and a processing plant in Kent following the discovery of that horse carcasses had been used to make beefburgers and kebabs.
Last week it emerged that one major supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s had emerged as a winner from the horse meat scandal which had engulfed its rivals Tesco and Asda.
With no horse meat being found in Sainsbury’s products, the chain saw sales surge by 3.6 per cent in the 10 weeks to March 16.