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On 16 January 2013 the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had found horse and pig DNA in a range of beef products on sale at several supermarkets including Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Dunnes Stores. This has sparked widespread testing of beef products across the EU revealing further incidences of contamination.

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s recent report Contamination of Beef Products (February 2013) found that the “current contamination crisis has caught the FSA and Government flat-footed and unable to respond effectively within structures designed primarily to respond to threats to human health”.

This note sets out some of the key elements of the controls and regulations governing meat safety and the use of horse meat.

Horse meat can be prepared and sold in the UK if it meets the general requirements for selling and labelling meat. There are three abattoirs operating in the UK that are licensed to slaughter horses for human consumption. It is also legal to export live horses from the UK for slaughter if they have the necessary paperwork such as a horse passport, export licence and health certification. However, this is not usual practice.

Since 2005 all horses have been required by EU law to have a passport for identification. Horses born after July 2009 must also be microchipped. The passport must accompany the horse whenever it is sold or transported, slaughtered for human consumption or used for the purposes of competition or breeding. It contains a declaration as to whether or not the horse is intended for human consumption. The purpose of passports and microchips is to identify horses and to record medicines which render them unfit to enter the food chain.

Monitoring and enforcement of the rules regarding meat products and meat labelling, inlcuding horse meat, is carried out by various bodies. This includes the Meat Hygiene Service, local authorities trading standards and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

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