Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 141

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 23 April 2013

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Barry Gardiner

Iain McKenzie

Neil Parish

Ms Margaret Ritchie


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Allan Reilly, Chief Executive, and Raymond Ellard, Director, Consumer Protection, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, gave evidence.

Q189 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome. Before I ask you to introduce yourselves for the record, there may be a vote at some stage in the main Chamber, at which point I will simply adjourn for the duration of the vote, and we will come back as quickly as we can. It would normally only be a 15minute interval. Thank you very much indeed for being with us and agreeing to contribute to our inquiry into food contamination. I invite you, for the record, to give your names and positions for us.

Professor Reilly: Thank you, Chair. My name is Allan Reilly. I’m the Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, and my colleague is Raymond Ellard.

Raymond Ellard: I am Raymond Ellard. I am the Director of Consumer Protection with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Q190 Chair: Excellent. You are both very welcome. May I ask when you started testing for possible contamination last year?

Professor Reilly: Yes. We started our project on the authenticity of beef products on the Irish market around mid-November 2012.

Q191 Chair: Why would you look to test? Why did you start testing?

Professor Reilly: As a matter of routine for monitoring and surveillance of the food supply in Ireland, we test the authenticity of some foods on the market. In 2005 we started this work, and we started to use DNA technology to look at the authenticity of chicken products we found to be contaminated with both pork and beef proteins. We have looked at-again using DNA technology-the authenticity of wild smoked Atlantic salmon on the Irish market, which turned out to be farmed smoked salmon. We have looked at other fishery products, for instance, those types of products that were sold in fishandchippers, and, again using DNA technology, we would look at the authenticity of things such as cod, and we found that it is not cod. In fact, the consumers were being codded. The type of testing we do with respect to authenticity is not new.

Chair: We will come on to the actual testing, if we may.

Professor Reilly: We did it because it is part and parcel of the work we do. That is the reason why we have been doing this since 2005. We decided to look at beef products. When we were deciding what type of products to look at, we thought, "What type of products will the consumer not be able to recognise?" If you buy a steak you can see it is a piece of steak, but if you buy a cottage pie, a lasagne or a beefburger, you do not know what is in that particular product. We decided to look for horsemeat, pork meat, and beef meat in those types of products.

Q192 Chair: We will come on to the actual testing. When did you inform the FSA UK that you were testing?

Professor Reilly: We would have had a regular meeting. We meet with the FSA Northern Ireland twice a year; senior managers from both organisations meet up and chat over what is going on, projects and so on. We would have informed them that we were developing testing methods for looking at the authenticity of beef products, and that we are looking for things like horse and pork. That was 23 November.

Q193 Chair: What was their response?

Professor Reilly: We agreed to keep them informed of what we were doing and we would have said that maybe it was something that they could do at some stage in the future. Back in November, we had no idea what we were going to uncover; this was a simple, routine monitoring survey, which was part of the normal work we do. We had no clue at that stage that we were going to uncover what we did.

Q194 Chair: The FSA UK told us that they suspect that the contamination could have gone on for as long as one year, since March 2012. Do you agree with that scenario?

Professor Reilly: Yes, we have scientific evidence to support that; we have one burger with something like 12 or 17% equine DNA that was manufactured in April 2012. We can certainly say with scientific justification that it was happening then. The question is, how long was this happening before April 2012?

Q195 Chair: ABP Food told the Committee that Polish suppliers to Silvercrest had denied contaminating beef products with horsemeat. Do you agree with that? That seems to contradict what the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine concluded.

Professor Reilly: From our information, certainly some product came directly into Ireland from Poland that was contaminated or adulterated with horsemeat. That would be our opinion: that we did have a direct supply in from Poland. We also had indirect supplies in from UK companies, where Polish label product would have come in to the UK, and from suppliers of middle men in the UK, where product would have come in to Ireland. There are essentially two routes, a direct route and an indirect route, whereby we would have taken contaminated or adulterated beef in.

Q196 Chair: From the British press-so not the Irish, French or Polish press-we have compiled a table that shows that by far and away the largest numbers of contamination relate to Ireland and Irish companies. What would you comment on that finding?

Professor Reilly: I am pleased I can comment on this. I do not know the source of the information that you have, but certainly from our perspective, if you look at what we found, and what has taken place right across Europe, and if you look at the recent results from the EU-wide monitoring programme, it would suggest that this was going on in many, many different countries.

Q197 Chair: You started testing in November. You think that it was both through a direct and an indirect route. Do you now know at exactly what point-where in the supply chain-beef was replaced by horsemeat?

Professor Reilly: That matter is now under investigation by a special investigation unit over at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and our police force. They are at the present moment trying to determine that particular fact: at what stage did fraud take place?

Q198 Chair: For me, personally, it is a bit surprising that in this country arrests have been made, potentially prosecutions will be brought and that is all in the public domain, and we started to test possible contamination two months after Ireland. When do you think that you will know, as the FSA Ireland, where in the process and at what point the contamination took place?

Professor Reilly: We are awaiting the outcome of what is essentially a criminal investigation, so I really cannot comment on when the results of that investigation will come to fruition. I would say that if you look at what our Minister has said in his report, there are some innocent parties here; some companies have bought contaminated beef, bought it in good faith that it was beef they were buying, and incorporated it into various products.

Q199 Chair: You are being very generous. What particular lessons could be learnt from this scenario?

Professor Reilly: General lessons?

Chair: I find it strange that, in the Irish Government’s report, following your conclusions, no penalty is being imposed for the use by a company of a nonapproved supplier that was found to have contaminated meat that was then passed on to the public. I find it strange that the Irish Government’s report concludes that it is unacceptable to withhold information, but do not seem to be doing anything about it.

Professor Reilly: On the latter point, no law was broken. No law was actually broken.

Q200 Chair: You are saying there was no criminal fraud?

Professor Reilly: There is no legal obligation on a company to inform the competent authorities of-

Q201 Chair: They have at the very least broken EU directives on food law and food labelling. Penalties should follow from that.

Professor Reilly: If the company were aware that the food was unsafe there would be an obligation to inform competent authorities, but they took a commercial decision not to inform the competent authorities. I am not trying to justify what they did. I would much prefer for that company to have told us, and we would not be in the situation that we are in today.

Q202 Chair: Do you, FSA Ireland, routinely test products for export before they go to other parts of the European Union, as you are required to do under EU law?

Professor Reilly: Companies have to conform with EU regulations, and it would be up to the companies to test products. They have to be legally manufactured, they have to comply with EU regulations-

Q203 Chair: No, I am sorry. It was confirmed by our own Minister that we are under a legal obligation, under the EU food directives, to test consignments before they leave our shores. You are under a similar obligation. Who is it in Ireland that would do such tests?

Professor Reilly: We would have monitoring programmes in place for things like veterinary residues, for pesticides, and for contaminants, so we would be monitoring the food supply, but really, the onus is on the food industries to produce and market safe food.

Q204 Chair: I am sorry, that is a bit like asking children to mark their own homework. Our Secretary of State has taken quite a strong lead on this, with support from France and other member states; there has to be an independent check under the EU regulations, and we established that on the record in our initial Report. If it is not you, who would be doing those tests?

Professor Reilly: Of course, we would be monitoring food-

Q205 Chair: You do physical sample checks of the meat and the label to make sure that it is not horsemeat leaving Ireland?

Professor Reilly: We would do physical checks, yes. Samples would be taken. Samples would be tested for veterinary drugs and so on; samples would be tested for pesticides-

Q206 Chair: Bute?

Professor Reilly: For bute? Yes, that would be included in our monitoring programme.

Q207 Chair: Have you ever found anything that would have raised any concerns?

Professor Reilly: Not to my knowledge with respect to bute in the food chain with our monitoring programme. No, is the answer to that.

Q208 Neil Parish: I have one last question on what the Chairman has been asking you: there were an awful lot of horses being slaughtered in the Republic, partly because of the weather and partly because of the number of horses. Were you a little bit suspicious about where all that horsemeat was going?

Professor Reilly: No; it was being exported. The meat was being slaughtered under veterinary approval, in approved abattoirs, and it was being exported.

Q209 Neil Parish: You were happy, with the number of horses being slaughtered in Ireland and the amount of horsemeat being exported, that the figures were matching up?

Professor Reilly: We did not go and match those figures up. We have not done that. Certainly that would not be part and parcel of the normal programme that we would implement. If you look at the amount of horsemeat that is in circulation in the UK, there is close to something like 400,000 horses slaughtered in the EU annually. We have probably something like 30,000 tonnes imported into the EU. There is plenty of horsemeat in circulation in the EU. The quantity of horses that would be produced by Ireland is a drop in the ocean in comparison.

Q210 Neil Parish: Your Department of Agriculture has said that all food intermediaries will now be registered as food business operators. From what date will this take effect and how will it impact on suppliers from outside the Republic of Ireland?

Professor Reilly: It is one of our big problems when you have traders who are not registered as food business operators; they are operating outside the controlled system. Our Minister has said that such traders will now be registered as food business operators, the controls will be in place to see what they are buying and selling and they will come under the official controls.

For a lot of these traders, the meat would never come into Ireland. They would be buying on the market, the meat would end up in a warehouse somewhere on the continent, and then it would be sold on to somewhere else. That is how traders operate. It would be quite difficult to come in under an official food control system. As to when that will all kick in, as far as I am aware there is not a date set for that, but I can let you know.

Q211 Neil Parish: It would be nice if we could have that in writing. In a way, you were hitting the crux of the matter, because, basically, horsemeat was being traded around. While it was being traded and labelled as horsemeat there was not a problem; it was when it was mixed with beef, or whatever, and then suddenly became beef. Are you confident that the system that you are going to put in place in Ireland would stop this type of thing happening again?

Professor Reilly: Yes. When it comes to the traders, we would not be aware of exactly who they are, but as soon as they come to our attention they will be required to register as a food business. The controls and the enhanced controls that are currently being suggested by the European Commission will certainly stamp out a lot of what has gone on in the past with respect to the adulteration of the processed beef chain with horsemeat.

Q212 Neil Parish: You are confident that you could hold a French company trading in Luxembourg or Poland to account, are you?

Professor Reilly: Yes. A lot of onus will be put on the industry to do this. Up to this, the food industry would be buying meat at face value. Those days are gone. There is no trader going to sell meat on face value from hereon in; somebody is going to test it. The onus is on the like of the retailers, who have been duped in all this. The retailer is going to drive the standards on their suppliers to come up with some form of authenticity testing and some form of certificate to say that what they are buying is beef and it is not adulterated.

The industry is going to drive a whole lot of this. We will, of course, have controls in place, and we will monitor what is going on, but the onus is on the food industry to produce and market safe food; if they do not do that, they go out of business.

Q213 Iain McKenzie: What is the volume of the beef traded between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, and what percentage of that would be between the Republic and Northern Ireland?

Professor Reilly: We would produce something in the region of 500,000 tonnes of beef, and we are talking about prime quality beef. Probably about half of that comes to the UK, so we are talking about something like 250,000 tonnes of prime beef. When we look at what has gone on in respect of the adulteration of beef products with horsemeat, we are talking about a tiny segment of the beef industry. It is a very, very small segment. The rest of the beef industry is fine; it is operating to the highest standards, and there really is no problem with it. What we are focusing on here is the frozen burger market.

Q214 Iain McKenzie: That small segment reflects on the whole industry, and it certainly has in this respect.

Professor Reilly: It depends. You can recognise when you buy a steak, when you buy a cut of meat, that it is beef. It is only in those types of products where you cannot recognise what you are buying-the consumer does not recognise what they are buying-those are the type of products we are talking about.

Q215 Iain McKenzie: On the identification and traceability of horsemeat, do you support the EU proposal that each member state should hold a national database of horse movements? What benefit would you say there would be in that?

Professor Reilly: I think there would be huge benefits. Certainly what the European Commission are suggesting is that there should be one organisation or one agency in each member state, and that agency has to be a competent authority. At present, we have many different private organisations that issue horse passports, and the opportunity is there to tamper with passports; that has been part of our problem. If you look at how we regulate the beef industry, we have a central database and when an animal is born, where it is reared, where it is slaughtered, and so on, are all recorded in the central database. We need the same kind of central database for horses and we need to be able to control the movement of horses and horsemeat going into the food chain.

Q216 Iain McKenzie: At this moment in time, how do you control the movement in Ireland?

Professor Reilly: With respect to horses going into abattoirs to be slaughtered, and so on, the control is under veterinary supervision. The actual movement of horses would not be controlled.

Q217 Iain McKenzie: How do you track them at the moment?

Professor Reilly: Once the animal goes into the slaughterhouse and it is slaughtered, the passport with that horse would go back to the issuing authority. That is how it is controlled at the present moment. We need to strengthen the controls. We need that central database for sure, and we need something very similar to what goes on in the beef industry for tracking and tracing animals. The system we have at the moment is far from satisfactory, but that system is Europewide; it is not just in Ireland.

Q218 Iain McKenzie: Between yourselves and Northern Ireland, do you currently regulate and track horse movement over the border?

Professor Reilly: No. There would be no legal requirement to do it. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland would not track and trace animals moving between the North and South.

Q219 Iain McKenzie: Not even the meat portion of it? You do not have to trace the livestock, but there is also no tracing of the slaughtered animal across the border?

Professor Reilly: Are you talking about beef or are you talking about horses there?

Iain McKenzie: Horsemeat.

Professor Reilly: No.

Q220 Iain McKenzie: The trade of horses between southern Ireland and Northern Ireland: there is no tracing of the live animal and there is no tracing of the slaughtered meat either?

Professor Reilly: Not really. There would be no requirement for the agencies to trace that meat. If there is a problem, it is then you would get into some sort of traceability exercise, but for the normal trade that would not be a requirement.

Q221 Iain McKenzie: There would be no handover of passport or anything as it transfers from the south to the north?

Professor Reilly: The passport will move with the horse. Let us say a shipment of horses is coming south or north: those horses will have passports, so the passport will travel with the horse, but once the horse is slaughtered the passport is returned to the agency that has issued the passport.

Q222 Barry Gardiner: I just want to try to clear up a slight discrepancy in what you said earlier, and to distinguish between the notification of a new methodology for testing, which you gave to the FSA at your meeting on 23 November-you said that you had notified them that you were testing for horsemeat-and applying it. It is a slightly different thing, is it not, to notify that you are developing a new methodology for testing for horsemeat, from testing for horsemeat? Can you clarify exactly what it was that you did say? You were not there, so maybe Mr Ellard can answer that.

Professor Reilly: I was not personally at the meeting. We would have told them about what we were doing. By 23 November we probably would have had the test method just about up and running.

Q223 Barry Gardiner: When did you send the first samples to Germany?

Professor Reilly: In December.

Q224 Barry Gardiner: You must have had the tests up and running by 23 November, surely?

Professor Reilly: We started the work about the middle of November. For the first lot of samples that came back positive-do not ask me the exact time-let us say within probably about a week or 10 days of those samples going in we would have got the first lot of samples back that tested positive. We thought, "What is going on?"

Q225 Barry Gardiner: You have just told the Committee that your first set of testing samples were in November, that you sent those off, and within a week you knew that had a positive result?

Professor Reilly: I would say a week to 10 days.

Q226 Barry Gardiner: Indeed. In the conversation that you had on 10 January with our Chief Scientist at the FSA, why did you not tell them? Why did you not mention in that telephone conversation that you had been doing tests and that you had had positive results?

Professor Reilly: When we started to do these tests and we got initial positives back, I found it hard to believe that we were getting positives back. We went and resampled. We went and resampled products that had tested positive; we tested those again and they came back positive. It was then a question of saying, "Can we have these corroborated in a second laboratory?" We took positive samples and sent them off to Germany.

Q227 Barry Gardiner: Right. You were pretty sure, then, by 10 January that this really was positive, were you not?

Professor Reilly: I would say I was pretty sure there was something going on, but I did not have any evidence of deliberate contamination or deliberate adulteration of the food chain with horsemeat.

Q228 Barry Gardiner: We are not talking about "deliberate" here; what we are talking about is whether, on 10 January, when you had that conversation with our Chief Scientist at the FSA-you had tested not only once; you had rechecked the samples-you knew for absolute certain that this was horse, and you did. That is what you have just told us. I am asking you why you did not convey that information to our Chief Scientist.

Professor Reilly: In the conversation that I would have had with the Chief Scientist at the time, I said, "We are having results; we do not know how to interpret them." That is essentially what I said: "We have interesting results here. We really do not know how to interpret them. We do not know what is going on."

Q229 Barry Gardiner: There was no mention of horsemeat in that conversation, Mr Reilly. I am not talking about your conversation on 14 January; I am talking about your conversation on 10 January, and there was no mention of horsemeat in it.

Professor Reilly: We did not know what was going on at the time. We were trying to check-

Q230 Barry Gardiner: You did. You have just confirmed to this Committee that you knew for sure that your samples, which had been doublechecked, had tested positive for horsemeat. Yet you thought it not appropriate to mention that in your conversation of 10 January to our Chief Scientist, and I am asking you why.

Professor Reilly: Essentially, we did not tell anyone.

Q231 Barry Gardiner: Let us go on from there. Our Minister, Mr Paterson, on 11 February, said in the House, "The reason the Irish agency picked up this issue in the Irish plant was that it had local intelligence that there was a problem; that is why it did a random check. I cleared that with Minister Coveney today". Was that a mistake?

Professor Reilly: We certainly did not have local intelligence.

Q232 Barry Gardiner: You did not have local intelligence. Why was it then that Patrick Wall said that this was intelligenceled?

Professor Reilly: I have no idea; you would have to put that question to him.

Q233 Barry Gardiner: Would you like to explain to the Committee who Patrick Wall is?

Professor Reilly: Yes. You would have to put that question to Patrick Wall himself. Patrick is-

Q234 Barry Gardiner: In your conversation with Catherine Brown, did you not say, when she asked you the very same question, "I do not know why Pat said that; I will have to ask him and find out." Did you ask him, and did you find out why he said it?

Professor Reilly: No, I have not had that conversation with Pat Wall. Look, can we come back to one issue here, which is that we had to confirm that we had a problem with horsemeat in the food chain?

Barry Gardiner: You had done; you had done it twice.

Q235 Chair: Why did you have reason to test? Had you found something or were you told to look for it? Was it intelligence? Why did you suddenly test?

Professor Reilly: The only intelligence that we had was some common sense that we thought if there was some form of adulteration going on in the food chain, if there was some type of food fraud, what type of products would somebody try and adulterate, and with what would they try to adulterate such products?

Q236 Barry Gardiner: That was not what you said in your press release on 15 January, was it, Mr Reilly? In your press release you announced that the results were, in the words of your press release, "from a targeted survey", not just general testing.

Professor Reilly: No, of course. The survey was targeted; it was targeted at beef products, things like beef meals, salamis, burgers. It certainly was a targeted survey.

Q237 Chair: You spoke of chicken earlier, so why did you move from chicken to horse? Someone, somewhere, must have said to you, "There is something funny going on".

Professor Reilly: No. I have been down this road so many times with different people. We were not acting on a tip-off; we were just acting on what I would call sound common sense.

Q238 Chair: Because the cost of beef was so high?

Professor Reilly: Yes, that would be-

Chair: So why did you not check for chicken, pork or other products? Why were you testing for horse and why did you change the whole methodology and use testing that we have never used in this country? What prompted you to do that?

Professor Reilly: We did not change the methodology. When you develop a test like this, you have to look for some new primers; you have to develop the primers for horse, for pork, and so on, and that is what our laboratory did.

Q239 Chair: Why were you testing for horse?

Professor Reilly: Again-

Q240 Chair: I am sorry; do not play the innocent with us, Mr Reilly. You were ahead of the game; you were testing for a product, with which we had hinted in March last year in our Report that there may be a problem. Why did you test for horse and the UK FSA did not? We need to know. It is very simple.

Professor Reilly: You would have to ask the UK why they were not testing. I am telling you the reason we were testing.

Q241 Barry Gardiner: Mr Reilly, you are asking this Committee to believe that you were simply, in response to no particular market information, conducting a test for horsemeat. I have here just what the implications of that are for the capture of what you initially said was a 40minute window during which the 29% in that Tesco beefburger was apprehended by you. If you assume that the plants work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 363 days a year, you have a starting point. If you were trying to find a 10minute window, which you would have to do to get that, for a 40minute window, it would be 6,534 tests costing £2.286 million. To get serious, you would need 26,136 tests, which would cost you £9.147 million to find that contamination. You are really asking this Committee to believe that you were just conducting a random test for horse at that level of DNA specificity and-goodness me-you found it. The luck of the Irish, Mr Reilly.

Professor Reilly: I have thought about that one burger, and thought it was like winning the Lotto. That is exactly what it was.

Q242 Barry Gardiner: It was the Lotto. Okay, in that case let me ask you a further question: why did you decide to use that particular test? You were testing for horsemeat, because you just wanted to find it? Why were you using that particular test?

Professor Reilly: The initial test that we were carrying out was for the presence or absence of equine DNA, porcine DNA, and bovine.

Q243 Chair: You still have not told us why you were going for horsemeat, and why you were not doing-

Professor Reilly: I have told you.

Chair: You have not.

Professor Reilly: I have not told you what you wanted to hear, but I have told you why we were doing it.

Q244 Chair: Tell me again. Humour me.

Professor Reilly: We went out to do an authenticity study on beef products on the Irish market. That is what we did, and we said, "What are the likely sources of adulteration? What type of meat could possibly be put in?" We decided we would look for those three; we would look for bovine, we would look for equine, and we would look for porcine DNA.

Q245 Barry Gardiner: Mr Reilly, can I put it to you that you did have intelligence that said there was a problem here, that the industry had been asked to clean up its act, but it had not actually done so, and that you decided that you would test for horse at a very, very minute level, because these DNA tests that you have used are unusually good at detecting at a low level, but with a test that you knew would not stand up in court? It was a way of gathering all the guys who were not taking notice of the instruction to clean their act up: you gather them all together, you prove that they have been doing horse, but also you cannot make a prosecution on the back of it. Is that not the case?

Professor Reilly: That is a fantastic theory and it certainly is not the case.

Q246 Barry Gardiner: Is it not the theory that you advanced in your conversation with Catherine Brown when she asked you why you used an unaccredited test? This is the Chief Executive of the FSA in the UK. You said, "It would be difficult to take a prosecution on the basis of these tests. Coveney’s job is to protect sustainable Irish industry. Silvercrest is a huge plant. We have identified where it has come from; they have new management, and his agenda is to get it back to work: protect the industry. There will be regular, experienced testing by Ministry vets in future." Is that not right?

Professor Reilly: No. Let us go back to what you said initially about the reasons why we carried out this test, and the type of methods that we were using.

Q247 Barry Gardiner: Why did you say that to Catherine Brown: that you could not get a prosecution on the basis of it, and that was part of the rationale for the way in which you conducted the test?

Professor Reilly: When we did this survey we did not go out and take formal samples under our regulations. We just went out and took random samples on the market. If you want to carry out a prosecution, you take formal samples.

Q248 Barry Gardiner: That was the point. You did not want to carry out a prosecution, did you? You wanted to get them to clean their act up, but you did not want to destroy the Irish industry in the process, and your Minister would have been furious with you if you had, so you developed a way of managing to square the circle?

Professor Reilly: All I can say is that that is totally untrue. All we did was, we went out-

Q249 Barry Gardiner: Why did you say that, then, to Catherine Brown?

Professor Reilly: No, we carry out these types of surveys on a yearly basis and we take samples. We do not take formal samples under regulations; we just go out and take random samples. You cannot prosecute with random samples. The aim is not a prosecution. We went back and took formal samples, for sure, and, yes, we have that evidence now, but at the time we were not thinking about taking prosecutions. We went out to find out if these types of product were being adulterated with meat other than beef; that was the purpose of the survey. It was not to go out and take prosecutions.

Q250 Barry Gardiner: How extraordinary; how absolutely extraordinary that you, as the FSAI, were going out to check whether there was a problem here, in the sure and certain knowledge that if there were a problem, you could not do anything to prosecute the people who had created the problem. How does that in any way fit with your regulatory obligations?

Professor Reilly: When we go out and carry out this type of survey, we take a certain type of samples; when we go out to carry out a prosecution, we will take formal samples under regulations.

Q251 Barry Gardiner: You do not associate taking the samples, finding that there is a problem, and checking the authenticity of the food, with, when you find that it is not authentic, being able to prosecute somebody? Is that not a lacuna in your methodology?

Professor Reilly: No, it is not and if you want to go out and take formal samples under regulations for the purpose of prosecution, that is what you do; if you want to go out and do a survey to find out what is going on in the market, you go out and do a survey. We went out in this case to-

Barry Gardiner: Just to test the water.

Professor Reilly: To have a look and see if we had a problem, and we found the problem.

Q252 Barry Gardiner: Now your investigation will go back to being business as usual, under the radar; you cannot say, "We are still investigating", because it would be, "a PR disaster", to quote you.

Professor Reilly: If you look at the outcome of our survey, and if you look at the actions that are being taken at European level at the present moment, with respect to food fraud, with respect to testing, with respect to strengthening monitoring programmes, and with respect to setting up networks for food fraud to report the type of findings that have resulted from our survey, there are huge positive results coming out of what we found, and huge benefits for the European consumer overall. If we had not have done our survey and if we had not have published it, your citizens would still be eating horsemeat.

Q253 Barry Gardiner: You said, "To be honest, we are never going to know what has happened. Record-keeping is so poor. They show us one set of records and then a different set of records. The prosecution may involve, on those grounds, a technicality. We are just trying to get back to normal." Is that not the whole purpose of the way in which you have conducted this survey/investigation?

Professor Reilly: Certainly not.

Q254 Barry Gardiner: You need to get back to normal; do not stir up the pot.

Professor Reilly: If you think that after what we did, and if you look at the fallout of what we did, we are ever going back to normal, we are never going to back to normal. We are never going to go back to where we were; it is as simple as that. On the back of the results of our survey-and it was a survey-we are changing, at European level, how consumers are protected with respect to food.

Q255 Barry Gardiner: Mr Reilly, do you deny one of the quotations that I have attributed to you?

Professor Reilly: No, if this was the conversation that I had with Catherine Brown, but it was a conversation at a point in time-

Barry Gardiner: You do not deny any of the quotations that I have attributed to you. Thank you.

Q256 Chair: You said earlier, Mr Reilly, that the Garda are still investigating. Do you believe that prosecutions will be brought?

Professor Reilly: It depends on the outcome of those investigations whether prosecutions will ensue.

Q257 Chair: How are you going to restore the confidence of the Irish public in eating Irish beef if prosecutions are not brought?

Professor Reilly: I do not think there is any problem with the reputation of Irish beef; I honestly do not. That is fairly secure. We are talking about a small segment of the food chain. We are talking about the frozenburger market; that is really what we are talking about. It is those types of products that consumers have lost a bit of confidence in, but certainly not the quality and the safety of Irish beef.

Q258 Barry Gardiner: The 14 March report from the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine states that B&F Meats deliberately mislabelled a consignment of horse as beef. The company has claimed that this was not fraudulent, because both the trader and the eventual customer that they were sending it to were fully aware that this mislabelling was going on, and that the customer they were sending it to had requested the use of that particular label, so that it should be labelled beef. Why are they not guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud? Why has no prosecution therefore taken place?

Professor Reilly: First, I do not know anything about conspiracy charges. That particular-

Q259 Barry Gardiner: If somebody does something that is fraudulent and they agree to do it with somebody else, and in the knowledge that that is then going to be sold on to a third party, then mislabelled as beef-you might want to sell it to me and I might say to you, "Excuse me, could you re-label that horse as beef?" and you say, "Are you sure you want it labelled as beef?", and I say, "Yes, thanks very much", and you then do it-you would have a pretty good idea that I am going to pass it off to somebody else as beef and not as horse, would you not?

Professor Reilly: That particular incident was investigated by our Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Q260 Barry Gardiner: They wanted to get business back to normal. They said, "No prosecutions".

Professor Reilly: We were not involved in the investigation, but to my knowledge the actual horsemeat was being labelled in the Czech language as beef.

Q261 Barry Gardiner: That would be wrong, would it not? If anybody was doing that, it would be wrong?

Professor Reilly: Yes, it would be wrong, but that was the requirement-

Q262 Barry Gardiner: If somebody was colluding in that, it would be conspiracy, would it not?

Professor Reilly: That was the requirement of the customer. The Irish processor was being paid for horsemeat; they were not being paid for beef meat. From the knowledge that I have, they had already contacted their customer in the UK, and said, "Are you aware that this label in Czech is saying beef, not horse?" The customer here was aware of it. To quote from the Minister’s-

Q263 Barry Gardiner: Is this just a matter of semantics to you? The mislabelling of a product does not matter as long as both parties to that mislabelling know that it is being mislabelled, and we do not ask any questions about that sale or that contract. We do not imagine to ourselves that it might be mislabelled quite specifically for the purpose of defrauding somebody further down the line.

Professor Reilly: I agree with you. I certainly agree with you. The Minister said in this statement, "The consideration of legal proceedings for possible non-compliance with labelling regulations is under active consideration". I do not think the Minister is saying that this company is not going to be prosecuted; prosecution is under consideration. I agree with what you are saying.

Barry Gardiner: We look forward to seeing it.

Professor Reilly: Maybe if a prosecution ensues, the judge will also agree.

Q264 Chair: Is it not a straightforward case of passing off horsemeat as beef?

Professor Reilly: Yes.

Chair: That is fraud.

Professor Reilly: Again, if it is labelled as beef, even in the Czech language, and inside the box is horse, yes, you are quite right.

Q265 Neil Parish: Obviously you have been doing an awful lot of testing. Have you been making an assessment of the viability of this in terms of cost and proportion to risk? Are you going to be able to carry on routinely testing at this level? Mr Gardiner brought in some of the figures for the costs of testing. What is your ongoing view of how much testing you will do?

Professor Reilly: We will probably do minimum testing from here on in, as a regulatory authority. The industry are going to test, and the responsibility lies with the industry to test the products that they are buying to ensure their authenticity, and to put correctly labelled products on the market. I would see the industry-being driven by the lack of retailers-requiring their suppliers to do testing.

Q266 Neil Parish: Hang on a minute, when you talk about the industry, what do you mean? Who is going to do the testing? Is it going to be the retailer that buys it? Is it going to be part of this chain that has been casting different labels on different products? How can you be sure that, if you leave it to the industry, they are going to do it properly?

Professor Reilly: I did not say that I am going to leave it to the industry completely; we will do random spot checks. If you are buying something like beef trim, you are going to check; the industry themselves, or any industry that is buying beef trim to put into some form of processed meat product, will be checking themselves to ensure what they are buying is authentic. Their customer-let us say it is a retailer, some big supermarket chain, or whatever-will be testing the product coming from the actual manufacturer, because they want to be sure that what they are getting is genuine beef.

Q267 Neil Parish: I accept what you are saying at the moment: that there is so much in the press and everywhere else about what has happened that people are unlikely to substitute horsemeat for beef at the moment. What we are also trying to tease out of all this is, when the dust settles and everybody gets back to normal, if people collude again-because they did collude in order for this to happen-are you absolutely confident that this industry testing will find the horsemeat if it is wrongly labelled in a beef product?

Professor Reilly: I would say, yes. We will do surveys; we will test on top of what is going on within the industry-just a spot check to keep everybody honest. What is going to come out of the recommendations from the European Commission is strengthening of official food controls, and the Commission is going to require member states to do such testing in the future. I believe that is the route we are going to go down, so there will be a requirement in the official control regulations for member states to do authenticity testing.

Q268 Neil Parish: When you do your random testing, will it be genuinely random? You will not notify the companies or whatever that you are arriving to do those tests?

Professor Reilly: No, we would be doing the spot checks randomly, as we did for this survey. We should hope that everybody is going to be honest about what they are doing.

Q269 Neil Parish: Do you know, up until now, how much you have actually spent on the testing that you have done?

Professor Reilly: Offhand I cannot give you a figure for the testing that we have carried out, but for the qualified testing that we carried out using mitochondrial DNA, probably something in the region of €40 per test; for the quantification, where we are looking at the percentage of horsemeat, probably something in the region of €200 per test. I am sure that price will come down depending on the volume of samples one is putting through a lab.

Neil Parish: If you were able to give us some figures in writing it would be quite useful please.

Professor Reilly: I will do. You have to use accredited laboratories. It was said earlier that we were not using accredited laboratories and that the reason we did not use accredited laboratories was because we did not want to bring prosecutions; that is totally untrue. We did use accredited laboratories to do the testing initially.

Q270 Ms Ritchie: Gentlemen, I want to concentrate on the level of co-operation between the south of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland. I want to ask you about the level of co-operation between FSA Ireland and the FSA in Northern Ireland, and also between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the South, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the Department of Health in the North. What level of co-operation exists in the course of those investigations? If that co-operation exists, how helpful have you found it? What has been the substance of that level of co-operation?

Professor Reilly: I can speak only for the level of co-operation between the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland. The level of co-operation has been really excellent; I would not put another term on it. We talk to one another; we have a Food Incident Management Team in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland; they have a counterpart in the north of Ireland, and they dialogue with each other on a regular basis, sometimes on a daily basis.

When we request the people in the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland for some action or for information, and so on, it is always forthcoming. We have set up a Food Fraud Task Force; a staff member from the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland sits on our Food Fraud Task Force. We have carried out joint exercises in the past on traceability of products between north and south, where staff co-operated in a joint team, following different products, to see the level of traceability between north and south. I would say the level of co-operation was excellent.

Q271 Ms Ritchie: Was that level of co-operation between south and north intensified as a result of your alerting, back in January about the Polish incident? Did that co-operation intensify in terms of the investigations, the results and rectification measures between both organisations?

Professor Reilly: When you say "intensified", there was a lot more traffic between the two organisations during this particular incident. Where we have food incidents that are common to both jurisdictions, the level of dialogue increases, and then it is back to normal. We may have another incident; again, we would talk on a more frequent basis. Going back to 2008, we had a major incident and again we were dialoguing with one another on more than a daily basis.

Q272 Ms Ritchie: Do you intend to have further discussions and further levels of collaboration with the FSA in the north and what areas would that capture?

Professor Reilly: The general areas on which we have collaborations with them are in association with official food controls that are common to both jurisdictions. If some food has gone to the North and there is a problem with the food, we will alert them, and vice versa. We have co-operation on our shellfish monitoring; we have common areas where shellfish are grown, and we share quite a bit of intelligence with respect to that monitoring programme. Whenever we have a food incident that is common to both jurisdictions, we will alert the people in the North, and they will alert us in a similar fashion.

Q273 Ms Ritchie: You agree that it is important to have a joinedup approach between South and North on traceability and labelling, so that that restores trust and confidence among the people on the island, both north and south, in the meat industry and the beef industry, which obviously is the bedrock of the economy?

Professor Reilly: I agree. The senior management-myself leading the group, and Gerry McCurdy leading his senior managers from the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland-meet twice a year: early in the year and later in the year. Essentially, we meet to talk about common issues. In November, we shared information about what we were doing with respect to testing for horse DNA, and those meetings will continue.

Q274 Iain McKenzie: Going briefly back to the random testing, you said that the industry is driving itself towards completing its own random testing. I am just wondering whether they do that with advice from you as how to go about random testing? If the industry does a random test off its own bat and finds a problem, what do they do then, apart from stop production? Do they come back to you to come in and verify?

Professor Reilly: Is this random testing for everything?

Iain McKenzie: If the industry was conducting a random test on its products and it found a contamination, are they under an obligation to report to you or do they just stop production and deal with it?

Professor Reilly: They would not be legally obliged to report if they found a random problem if the food was still under their control. If the food went outside their control, they are obliged under regulations to inform the competent authority and the same rules exist here-that is a European rule.

Q275 Chair: There was one question you did not answer: the role of Patrick Wall. What was his position with the FSAI?

Professor Reilly: Patrick used to be the Chief Executive of the FSAI; he is now an Associate Professor of Public Health at University College, Dublin.

Q276 Barry Gardiner: Has he just been appointed to another role?

Professor Reilly: Yes. He has been appointed as Chair of the Board of Horse Sport Ireland.

Barry Gardiner: Horse Sport Ireland. Thank you. I just wanted to get that on the record.

Q277 Chair: I asked about bute. How often have you found bute in any of your samples?

Professor Reilly: We have never found bute in any of the food samples that we have looked at.

Chair: Horsemeat for export?

Professor Reilly: When we started off, when we found the level of contamination we did find, any of the positive samples that we found for the burgers were tested for bute. They all came back negative for bute. Within the current controls that were carried out under the European monitoring programme for the last month, one sample from 840 tested positive.

Chair: Could you drop us a line on that? That would be very helpful.

Professor Reilly: Yes, certainly. All that information is available on the website of the European Union-

Chair: For the purposes of our inquiry, will you follow that up?

Professor Reilly: We will.

Q278 Chair: The Irish Government’s Report said that EU labelling regulations should be reviewed with a view to introducing provisions on intermediate labelling. Have you been consulted by the Irish Government in that regard, on labelling?

Professor Reilly: It is something that is under discussion. I think it is under discussion at European level. Yes, we are aware of that recommendation. We will have to see where it goes, but in the end it will be European regulation; it will be common agreement among all member states if it does go forward.

Chair: Professor Reilly, Mr Ellard, thank you very much indeed for being with us and for being so generous with your time this afternoon. Thank you both very much indeed.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Elizabeth Moran, President, Association of Public Analysts, and Dr Duncan Campbell, Past President/Honorary Secretary, Association of Public Analysts, gave evidence.

Q279 Chair: I welcome you both to the Committee and thank you for participating in our inquiry. May I ask you, for the purposes of the record, to give your names and positions?

Elizabeth Moran: Good afternoon. I am Elizabeth Moran. I am a public analyst employed by Public Analysts Scientific Services Ltd, part of the Eurofins group, and I am the President of the Association of Public Analysts.

Dr Campbell: I am Duncan Campbell, a public analyst employed on behalf of the five councils of West Yorkshire, currently Honorary Secretary of the Association of Public Analysts and also Past President of the Association.

Q280 Chair: Thank you. You are both very welcome. My I ask, at the outset, who, for the most part, does the actual testing for the purposes of food testing?

Elizabeth Moran: In the whole of the UK, there are two types of testing done for enforcement purposes. There is food hygiene testing, which is microbiological testing, carried out by the Health Protection Agency, which is now Public Health England, a department of the Department of Health. There is chemical testing, which would include contaminants and adulteration and standards, which is carried out by public analysts in public analyst laboratories.

Q281 Chair: Separately, who takes the actual enforcement action if the testing has found something out of order?

Elizabeth Moran: Local authorities are responsible for enforcing food safety and composition regulations. Trading standards and environmental health officers working in local authorities take the samples. If the results of testing are adverse, the local authority would then take enforcement action.

Q282 Chair: Would you say that the current system works well, or is there a potential gap between the testing and finding contamination, and the enforcement action taking place?

Elizabeth Moran: The current system was set up a very long time ago when food production was at a much more local level, and food testing is still done at a local level, so it is up to individual local authorities to decide what they want to test. The Food Standards Agency do set national priorities. The current system probably does not work as well as it could, in that the sampling is not necessarily particularly well targeted. We have an intelligenceled, riskbased system, which is obviously only as good as the intelligence that that is based on and the identification of risks.

As far as the testing facilities are concerned, we have a difficulty with the chemical analysis on the public analyst side, because there is no centralised laboratory system. There are several localauthorityrun labs and private laboratories, and they are left to market forces in terms of the testing that they do. Most local authorities put their testing work out to tender, so all the laboratories are in competition with each other to win the work.

Q283 Chair: Would you say that food testing is adequately funded at present?

Elizabeth Moran: I would say that it is not adequately funded. Central Government provides funding to local authorities via the revenue support grant, but this funding is not ring fenced, so it is up to local authorities to decide how they use it. Most local authorities have seen a reduction in the funding that they have had available to do inspections of food businesses and sampling for analysis.

Q284 Chair: In your written evidence you say that some local authorities rely almost entirely on FSA funding to carry out food sampling. What proportion of local authorities are you referring to in this regard, and is there a regional differential in this practice?

Elizabeth Moran: There certainly are regional variations; perhaps my colleague would like to comment on that further?

Dr Campbell: I shall speak for the area that my laboratory covers, which is Yorkshire and Humberside largely, but also a little bit up into the Tees. I have drawn some figures from my own budget for work that we have done that has been funded by the local authorities and also directly for the Agency’s targeted surveys. In the Yorkshire and Humber region for last year, two grants were awarded.

For the authorities sending samples to me, other than West Yorkshire, the FSAfunded work had a value of £67,000; those local authorities spent £83,000 of their own money with my laboratory for analysis last year. That is a population of 2.1 million. West Yorkshire, which has a population of 2.2 million, spent £300,000 of its own money and £13,000 of FSA money. A separate group of five local authorities for which I have appointment spent £11,400 of FSA money with us, and £1,700 of their own money. Some of those local authorities spent no money at all, so they were not taking any samples for analysis at an official control laboratory.

Even within the Yorkshire and Humber region the picture is very varied. If you look across England you will find similar variation between local authorities, which are more adequately funded, or I might even say less inadequately funded, and others, particularly London boroughs, who do virtually no sampling at all. The levels of sampling are available on the FSA website; they are called LAEMS Returns-that is Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring Service returns-and that details various enforcement work that local authorities do.

Chair: Would we be able to get those figures that you have shared with us in writing? That would be helpful.

Dr Campbell: Yes.

Q285 Chair: Would you say that local authorities are carrying out sufficient food sampling?

Elizabeth Moran: It depends on what you mean sufficient for, but in terms of the remit of this inquiry, obviously the horsemeat contamination issue was not picked up by testing in the UK. Certainly the level of sampling and analysis that is being done at the moment is not sufficient to pick up emerging problems and problems of adulteration. Horsemeat contamination is just one example of a fraud that is taking place in food; there are probably others out there that we do not know about.

As I said previously, although we have a riskbased sampling regime, we need to know what the risks are. The reality is that most local authorities are not assessing the risks-they are assessing the risks, but they are constrained by the budget that they have, so they have to decide which of their highrisk food businesses they are going to look at and whether they are going even to take any samples at all when they visit those businesses.

Q286 Iain McKenzie: Do you believe there should be a minimum sampling rate for each local authority?

Elizabeth Moran: I know that in the past there has been a minimum sampling rate, and although it is a useful way of ensuring-

Q287 Iain McKenzie: Can you tell us what that rate was, in the past?

Dr Campbell: A figure of 2.5 samples per year per 1,000 population has been used in the past, but that is regarded as not being an appropriate figure, given, as my colleague was saying earlier, the changes in the way that food is made and distributed. Certainly until very recently Germany had a sampling rate of five samples per 1,000 head of population. A sampling rate itself is a very crude measure, because in the past, when more credence was given to sampling rates, one of my authorities would go into a butcher’s, take two samples of mince-the same mince-submit one sample for fat content and another to check whether the beef mince had pork in it. We could very easily have done the testing on a single sample, but to increase the number of samples that they were showing on their books they were taking two samples.

A simple sampling rate is clearly open to abuse, and it is also a matter of how much money you spend: do you carry out one very cheap test on that sample? A sample of milk, for instance: do you simply check that it has got the right fat content for semi-skimmed milk, or do you also check for added water? Do you also check for antibiotics? Do you also check to see that it has been adequately pasteurised? That is a very simple example.

You could spend £20 on an analysis of one sample or you could spend £1,200 or £1,500. A sampling rate per head of population is a very crude measure, which can be abused, and does not necessarily give you much information.

Q288 Iain McKenzie: You have also said that the trigger is intelligenceled. Do you believe we should introduce random sampling?

Dr Campbell: The Food Law Code of Practice, the Agency has said in evidence to the Committee, requires a riskbased sampling programme to be in place. As Liz said, that risk is constrained by how much money the local authority has to spend. The lead is, how much we have to spend. Random sampling: again, what exactly do you mean by random sampling? Do you just have a random idea? The gentlemen from Ireland were talking about having a commonsenseled approach, which is perhaps somewhere in between.

To have intelligence. you need to have something to base that on, and if you are not doing any sampling at all your intelligence is going to be limited, because there are certain aspects of food fraud that can only be picked up by analysis; inspections or chasing paper will not pick them up. Random sampling has its attraction, but it could result in a scattergun approach, which would be unfocused and not necessarily pick up problems. Intelligenceled sampling does have to be led by intelligence or by common sense, or being able to think, "What will we look at? Where might there be a problem?" rather than being continually restrained by budget.

Elizabeth Moran: Currently local authorities often have to make a business case for taking a sample, and they have to be able to justify taking that sample on the basis of a tipoff, of intelligence, or of a previously identified risk. That can be very constraining. I would not recommend random sampling, but targeted sampling. For instance, the horsemeat issue, we have been testing hundreds and hundreds of meat products in the last few years, but we have never been instructed or asked to test for horse DNA. We have been testing for the fat content of the meat, or the meat content, but not the species of meat in the product.

There has not been any specific intelligence on contamination with horse, but there have been incidents in the past: in 2003 there was an issue with horse in salami products; after the Second World War there was a huge horsemeat fraud. These problems arise at particular intervals, so you could argue there is intelligence there for looking at that. Targeted sampling, looking at particular products that are likely to be adulterated, does have a place and currently there is no provision for that in the system.

Q289 Ms Ritchie: 28 local councils were asked to carry out tests for horse DNA contamination by the Food Standards Agency. Did all these tests have to go through the six laboratories that are equipped to analyse horse DNA?

Elizabeth Moran: Yes, they did.

Q290 Ms Ritchie: How was that managed?

Elizabeth Moran: Each of the local authorities that was asked to take samples would have submitted those samples to their appointed public analyst. If that public analyst’s laboratory was not able to do the DNA testing, they would then have passed the sample on, under provisions in the Food Safety Act, to a public analyst’s laboratory that could carry out the testing. As you said, there were only six of those within the UK, so they then had to test all of the samples.

Q291 Chair: You mentioned in your written evidence about the potential closures of labs; are you concerned?

Elizabeth Moran: Yes, I am concerned, and as an association we are very concerned. Because of the constraints in budgets, and because there is no central funding or any kind of baseline funding for public analyst laboratories, the laboratories are completely dependent on the income they get from testing. If they are not receiving many samples, they have no income to invest in new equipment and in new expertise. This is a case in point: although all these labs are official control laboratories, they all have to be accredited for the testing we carry out; when we have a national crisis like this less than half the labs have the capability to do any testing.

Q292 Chair: We are coming on to funding for sampling now, but in response to Mr McKenzie, you said targeted sampling might be better than random sampling. Would that have implications for funding?

Elizabeth Moran: Yes, I think it would. As my colleague mentioned, some local authorities currently do not take any samples at all, so either in those local authorities there are no risks, or they have no food businesses that carry any risk. If targeted sampling was to be included along with riskbased sampling then, clearly, extra funding would be required.

Q293 Chair: If it emerged that there were risks and they did not have the funds, because the funds were allocated to other aspects of local authority work, what is the worstcase scenario that could happen-if they have not tested, because they assumed there was no risk, and then a risk appeared?

Elizabeth Moran: The worstcase scenario with food testing and food safety is that somebody could die as a result of consuming food that was contaminated. That is probably fairly unlikely to happen, but the worstcase scenario in most cases would be that food that is either unsafe or not labelled as it should be is being sold throughout the UK.

Dr Campbell: If I could just add to that: people do die, not in large numbers. An instance is people who suffer from peanut allergy. It happens that a young person grows up in a family, suffering from peanut allergy; their parents look after him or her; they go off to university; they go out for a takeaway; they ask for chicken tikka masala with no nuts in; and they are provided with one that has nuts in, because the staff in the takeaway do not fully understand what nut allergy is. There are instances of almond powder being adulterated with peanut, because it is cheaper.

I know one of the authorities that I do work for-or do very little work for-had that problem, but they did not follow it up. I gave them a quotation to do a fairly modest amount of analysis, but they never came back to me; someone was certainly in hospital as a result of that. Liz mentioned local authorities where there are no risks; well, there are no local authorities that do not have an Indian takeaway or a fish and chip shop, so there are risks there. It is just that local authorities are choosing-

Q294 Barry Gardiner: Can I just stop you there, and could we talk about just "fast food outlets", as a constituency Member who represents a vast Indian population, rather than focusing it on one type in particular? I understand the point that you are making.

You referred to the LAEMS tables. Does it surprise you to find that in 2011-12 there are 27 authorities who had the responsibility for testing, but did not conduct food composition tests?

Dr Campbell: I have been around for a while, and I am not surprised. I find it difficult that there is this tension between a code of practice that requires local authorities to have a riskbased sampling programme, and local authorities who take no samples. Forgive me for using the example of takeaways, but that was a very simple example; no matter how small the local authority, even if it has no big food manufacturers in it, it is going to have a takeaway, and there are risks there. There is this contradiction between a code of practice that requires riskbased sampling and FSA statistics that show a number of authorities, as you have said, that take no food standard samples. In fact, 7 million people in England live in local authorities that take no food standard samples, so there is this contradiction.

Q295 Barry Gardiner: Have you noticed between 2009 and 2011 that the decline in sampling, whether it is in counties, unitary authorities, metropolitan authorities or London boroughs, has been approximately 50%-

Dr Campbell: I would not have said that it was perhaps quite as high as that.

Barry Gardiner: I have got the figures here: if we are looking at median, it is 43.5% for counties, it is 49% for unitary authorities, it is 50% for metropolitan, and 52.3% for London boroughs. Is it simply down to cost-cutting on the part of local authorities, or is there another reason why that might have happened?

Elizabeth Moran: The main reason is the cuts in budgets to local authorities, not just in the budget for taking samples and the analysis, but cuts to the numbers of qualified officers who can go out and take samples. If there is money there to take samples but no one to go out and take them, it just does not happen.

Q296 Barry Gardiner: That is a beautiful way of leading into my next question: how many public analysts are there in the UK? How many have been made redundant in recent years? Do we need more public analysts? If so, where, given that you said it varies from county to county or region to region?

Elizabeth Moran: As of today, there are 30 public analysts working and appointed in the UK. To give you an example of the decline, in 2007 there were 41 public analysts, so the numbers have dropped by more than 25% in the past six years. That is due to retirements and laboratory closures. Some of the public analysts who were made redundant when local authorities closed laboratories have been re-employed in private sector laboratories. In terms of the locations of laboratories, there are 10 laboratories in England, three laboratories in Wales, four in Scotland, and one in Northern Ireland.

Q297 Barry Gardiner: I presume that if you are living in Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Hampshire, or Kent, things look pretty good, but if you are living in Gloucestershire, which conducted only one test in 2011-12, you might want to ask your local authority why.

Elizabeth Moran: Gloucestershire is an interesting case in point, and something I have had some personal involvement with; I was previously the public analyst for Gloucestershire. Their sampling budget was cut very drastically; only two or three years ago they were taking very large numbers of samples for a shire county, and you can see that that is a very stark example of how the funding available to them has been cut.

With regard to your previous question about whether there are enough public analysts, unfortunately, because the numbers of samples being taken have dropped so significantly, there are enough public analysts at the moment. If the numbers of samples continue to drop, the numbers of labs that close will increase, and the number of public analysts working will decrease. If you take that to its logical conclusion, by 2020 we could end up with no enforcement system left at all.

Q298 Chair: The Local Government Association told us in their written evidence that local councils were increasingly sharing their test results, as a way of coping with funding pressures. Do you have experience of this? Is that something you recognise-that they are sharing their results?

Dr Campbell: What the LGA are referring to is what is called the UK Food Surveillance System (UKFSS), which is a software database that the Food Standards Agency have set up. Currently about 62% of local authorities are using it, the idea being that when a sample is taken its details are entered on the system, then the laboratory conducts its analysis and does the results; that is then uploaded. When it is fully fledged there will be a very valuable resource there. It is not by any means complete, and there have been teething problems with it. One of the things that it does require, even if it is working properly, is for the offices in the local authority to have the time and the inclination to interrogate it to get the information from it to help them inform their sampling.

If that were fully developed and working it would be a very valuable tool, because at the moment a trading standards officer in Cornwall and one in Carlisle may go into a branch of a supermarket and take, effectively, a sample of the same product, find a problem with it, and then refer it back to the home authority. It may be that that product is made in a local authority that does no sampling and analysis, so the problem would never have been picked up anyway. If there was central co-ordination, so there were resources directed to local authorities that had big manufacturing businesses, that sort of database would be much more valuable than it is.

Chair: So it is a useful tool at the moment.

Dr Campbell: It is not fully developed by any means. A number of local authorities have been very reluctant to start using it, because of software issues and double data entry, and so on.

Q299 Neil Parish: The Irish FSA have a new test for testing for contamination below 1%. What is your view of this particular test, scientifically?

Elizabeth Moran: Although the test the FSAI used was developed newly for the survey that they were looking at, it is not a new technology, certainly not in the last five to 10 years. The state of the art of DNA testing currently is to be able to get down to about 0.01% of the target species DNA. The laboratory that FSAI used to corroborate the results used the same methodology and is accredited to ISO 17025 for it. It is a perfectly valid test.

Q300 Neil Parish: That is the one that the Irish are using, is it?

Elizabeth Moran: Yes.

Q301 Neil Parish: Dr Campbell, do you want to add anything?

Dr Campbell: No. Liz has much more expertise in DNA analysis than I have, so she is the expert.

Q302 Barry Gardiner: Can you explain why it is that, according to Mr Reilly, the test would not stand up in a court of law?

Elizabeth Moran: The impression I got from Mr Reilly was that it was not the test itself, but the manner in which the samples were taken that was the reason they would not stand up in court: that the samples were taken informally, rather than formally. To give you an example, local authorities in the UK have the same option when they go out; they can do informal sampling, which is the purchase or picking up of one sample, or they can use a procedure for formal sampling, which is set out in law, where they take a sample and divide it into three parts, one part of which goes to the public analyst, one part is given to the trader, and a third part is retained for the Government Chemist. It is only samples taken formally that can be used to take forward a prosecution.

However, what would normally happen is, if a problem was found with an informal sample, a local authority should then go back and take a formal sample of the same product, in order to enable a prosecution to then be taken, assuming that the results were adverse on that formal sample as well.

Q303 Barry Gardiner: So the normal way of operating would have been to have revisited those two plants-the ABP plant and the Liffey plant-and to have then immediately taken further samples from them. Is that right?

Elizabeth Moran: Yes. That would be the normal way of doing things.

Q304 Barry Gardiner: That would have allowed the Irish to prosecute, assuming the tests had come up the same?

Elizabeth Moran: Yes. Although the test that was used to test the samples first time around was not accredited, although I do not actually know, I would have expected that it would have been validated, and that the results should therefore have been suitable for use in court. I know that certainly there is a reluctance to use results from non-accredited laboratories, because the European legislation states that official control samples must be tested in accredited laboratories.

Q305 Chair: Is that why we do not use it in the UK?

Elizabeth Moran: The test is used in the UK. The Food Standards Agency survey specified a different testing methodology, because that was based on a project that they had researched and rolled out about 10 years ago, but most of the laboratories that carried out the work for the Food Standards Agency did use the same methodology as the Irish, because it is the most uptodate and stateoftheart test.

Q306 Barry Gardiner: Given that the sampling was done on three sites and found this rogue 29% burger, in terms of the onein26,136 chance that my figures suggest he would have needed to have pulled out his luck from, in your experience, how likely is it that three tests done in that way, on a random plant in the country, would have managed just to alight on the problem?

Chair: You may not feel able to answer that.

Elizabeth Moran: Statistically it is unlikely, but not impossible.

Barry Gardiner: Nothing is impossible.

Q307 Chair: From the trace element point of view, from a public safety viewpoint, you cannot be nearly as worried up to 1% as with the gross contamination of 29%? There is a public concern about gross contamination, but short of insisting, where there is pork being produced from the same plant as beef you are never going to eradicate a trace element from analysis, are you?

Elizabeth Moran: It certainly is a practical difficulty, but food businesses have to take that into consideration. If a meat plant wants to produce halal products, for instance, then they should not be producing it in a meat plant that processes pork, because of that difficulty. Certain sections of society would not tolerate trace levels of pork in a product sold as halal. For horse in beef products it may be different. Just because the level found is below 1% that does not necessarily mean it is just adventitious contamination; it still indicates that there is a problem, and certainly merits further investigation. Although no one would expect that zero tolerance should be applied, there is obviously an issue there, and it has implications about hygiene and cleandown in factories.

Q308 Chair: In your written evidence you say that the Food Law Code of Practice means that each food authority is required to produce an annual service plan for enforcement of food standards. Does that happen? There is no indication that that is not happening?

Elizabeth Moran: It does happen. The Food Standards Agency publish national priorities every year, and most local authorities publish a service plan, some in conjunction with their public analysts, and some publish it on their local authority website. The plans can be very detailed, right down to the number of samples being taken, or they can be more vague and more a statement of intent.

Q309 Chair: You mentioned the 18 laboratories reducing to six, and the fact that that leaves the UK enforcement system in a vulnerable position as regards testing capacity being effectively left to market forces. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Elizabeth Moran: The six laboratories relates to the number of labs that were able to carry out the DNA analysis for the horsemeat incident. The Food Standards Agency was clearly under a lot of pressure to do testing and to get results very quickly, and the six laboratories concerned have had to work extremely hard, take on extra staff, work very, very long hours, and have struggled to meet the deadlines. There was no spare capacity in the system, because the laboratories are run as commercial enterprises and have to compete with each other.

Q310 Chair: Dr Campbell seemed to be arguing for a national system of testing; is that something I misunderstood?

Dr Campbell: I have said many times in the past that the sampling should be centrally, nationally funded, co-ordinated regionally, but delivered locally, because although 80% of food is sold through five supermarket chains, obviously there is still 20% of food that is locally produced and sold. Because of the big players there is a need, as I touched on earlier, to ensure that, if there is a big manufacturing plant manufacturing a meat product that is nationally distributed, there is an adequate inspection sampling regime in place in that plant.

Currently, because of the wide variation in local authority inspection and sampling activity that we have been discussing, there is no guarantee that that will happen. There is a sort of postcode lottery, which I know is an overused term, but it is down to a local authority deciding what its priorities are, obviously in very difficult times at the moment; local authorities are making very difficult decisions about how they are going to spend their money all the time, but if that local authority, for whatever reason, decides that this is a low priority for them, the potential ramifications go across the whole country. The food chain is obviously extremely complicated, as we have seen with the whole horsemeat thing.

Chair: On behalf of the Committee, thank you both very much indeed for being here and sharing your evidence with us, and for contributing to our inquiry. We are very grateful. Thank you very much.

Prepared 15th July 2013