You might suppose, given the recent outburst by Lord Dalmeny, that the Tories are either fools or knaves.
Such an assessment is fairly incontestable, but the horse meat scandal has shone a stronger light on the Tories’ conduct and actions in government.
We shouldn’t forget that Andrew Lansley tried to emasculate the Food Standards Agency in 2010:
“For the past four years the FSA, which was set up to protect consumers after the BSE crisis, has been at the centre of a regulatory battle that has pitted big food companies against consumer groups and public health professionals, with both sides accusing each other of misinformation campaigns and excessive lobbying.”
Critics noted that the end of the FSA was floated days after the health secretary offered a pact with the food industry. “
The mad cow disease crisis in the 1980/90s and its aftermath should have been a wakeup call, however according to Farmers Guardian, the Tory-led government has decided to relax the rules on abattoirs testing cattle for BSE.
“Since the recognition of BSE in 1986, over 180,000 cattle in the UK have developed the disease and 1–3 million are likely to have been infected with the BSE agent, most of which were slaughtered for human consumption before developing signs of the disease.”
“John Young, a former manager at the Meat Hygiene Service, now part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), told the Sunday Times he helped draft a letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in April that year that he said was ignored.
The letter to former minister Sir Jim Paice on behalf of Britain’s largest horsemeat exporter, High Peak Meat Exports, warned the government that its passport scheme, designed to stop meat containing the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, getting into the food chain was a “debacle”.
“Defra gave nearly 80 organisations the authority to produce passports and some of them are little better than children could produce … It’s a complete mess,” he said.”
The Tories were warned of this:
” “If you take the FSA and remove 800 inspectors from it, if you remove its arm’s length position from government – as it was originally set up after the BSE crisis – if you remove all that, you put the public at risk.”
Will Hutton puts his finger on it:
“Paterson is one of the Tories who joyfully shared the scorched earth months of the summer of 2010 when war was declared on quangos and the bloated, as they saw it, “Brownian” state. The Food Standards Agency was a natural candidate for dismemberment. Of course an integrated agency inspecting, advising and enforcing food safety and hygiene should be broken up. As an effective regulator, it was disliked by “wealth-generating” supermarkets and food companies. Its 1,700 inspectors were agents of the state terrifying honest-to-God entrepreneurs with unannounced spot checks and enforced “gold-plated” food labelling. Regulation should be “light touch”.
No Tory would say that now, not even Paterson, one of the less sharp knives in the political drawer. He runs the ministry that took over the FSA’s inspecting function at the same time as it was reeling from massive budget cuts, which he also joyfully cheered on. He finds himself with no answer to the charge that his hollowed-out department, a gutted FSA with 800 fewer inspectors and eviscerated local government were and are incapable of ensuring public health.
Paterson, beneath the ideological bluster, is as innocent about business as Bambi. Even the most callow observer could predict that with the wholesale slaughter of horses across the continent as recession hit the racing industry – horsemeat production jumped by 52% in 2012 – some was bound to enter the pan-European network of abattoirs, just-in-time buying, industrial refrigeration units, food brokers and giant supermarkets that deliver British and European consumers their food.
Meanwhile, the budgets of some local government food sampling units have been slashed by 70%. A Tesco beef burger containing 29% horsemeat was an accident waiting to happen. Of course it was the Food Safety Authority of Ireland rather than the FSA that blew the whistle. Businesses owned by footloose “tourist” shareholders whose sole purpose is profit maximisation in transactional markets have an embedded propensity to degrade. Consumers and suppliers alike become no more than anonymised numbers to be exploited to hit the next quarter’s profit target. “