People in Devon and Cornwall urged to Buy Local as horsemeat fears grow
MPs have lined up to urge consumers to buy local produce to ensure they are not inadvertently eating horse meat.
The call to "buy British", which could be a boon for the Westcountry's key farming sector, came as the Government sought to allay fears that contaminated meat was being sold in British supermarkets.
Former environment minister Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: "I would currently not buy or eat processed beef products, given the Government can give no assurances about what is in it.
"If people want to be confident about the meat they're eating they should buy fresh British meat, preferably local and from a trusted source."
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George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, who sits on the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee, said: "There's growing concern about the provenance of meat products. This latest scare over horse meat is the latest in a long line of similar problems. If people want to know for sure where their beef or pork comes from, their best bet is to support their local butcher, who will know where their meat is sourced."
The Westcountry MPs spoke after Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, the chair of the Efra committee, also urged the public to buy their meat locally, and the National Farmers' Union said consumers should look to 100% British produce for confidence.
NFU president Peter Kendall said: "This has never been a farming issue, but it is certainly an issue that farmers will be taking extremely seriously.
"The NFU is working with the industry to uphold the reputation of British farmers who are committed to producing world-class raw ingredients in to the supply chain."
Defra has sought to play down any concerns that the scandal could pose a health risk, saying there is "currently no evidence of a risk to human health" and that the issue concerns fraudulent food labelling instead.
The crisis was ramped up last week after frozen foods firm Findus announced some of its beef lasagnes were found to have up to 100% horse meat in them.
Horse meat has been found in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.
The National Beef Association yesterday called for more precise labelling of products.
The organisation has now suggested all UK beef should be labelled with the words "United Kingdom origin" printed on its packaging.
Chris Mallon, national director of the NBA, urged consumers to prevent "further cheating" by suppliers by ensuring the beef they purchased was taken exclusively from cattle born, reared and processed in the UK.
The scandal has spread all over the continent as details of the elaborate supply chain in the meat industry emerge.
French consumer safety authorities have said companies from Romania, Cyprus and the Netherlands as well as its own firms were involved.
One theory for the apparent increase in the presence of horse meat in the food chain is new restrictions on using horses on roads in Romania, which have led to a surge in numbers of animals being put down.
Yesterday, under-fire Environment Secretary Owen Paterson faced a hostile reception as he updated MPs on the scandal.
He told Members that unless products had been designated as unsafe by the Food Standards Agency, consumers should not worry.
He also told the Commons it appeared that "criminal activity" had been at the heart of the scandal, adding there would be immediate testing of products across the supply chain – including tests at schools, hospitals and prisons.
The FSA had also reassured him that the products recalled did not present a risk to the public, but consumers who had bought Findus beef lasagnes should return them to the shop they had bought them from as a "precaution".
The food industry is due to announce the results of hundreds of tests by Friday, which should reveal the scale of the scandal in Britain.
Tests are being carried out to ascertain if the drug phenylbutazone – known as bute and which is banned from the human food chain – is in any of the horse meat.
Labour tore into the Government response to the crisis.
Mr Paterson has been criticised for returning to his Shropshire constituency last Friday as the crisis mounted, and was ordered back to London by David Cameron as the Prime Minister orchestrated a cut to the EU budget in Brussels.
Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh accused Mr Paterson of being "incompetent", and dragged back from a "long weekend" in his constituency. The lack of information from the Government had been a "disgrace", Ms Creagh added, telling MPs the British public's confidence in the food chain was "sinking like a stone".
Mr Paterson said: "At the moment this appears to be an issue of fraud and mis-labelling, but if anything suggests the need for changes to surveillance and enforcement in the UK we will not hesitate to make those changes. Once we have established the full facts of the current incidents and identified where enforcement action can be taken, we will want to look at the lessons that can be learned from this episode."