I was nauseated when I heard about the discovery of horsemeat in ready meals and other processed food – and I am sure others were too. Our reaction as a nation to horses is such that, although in theory these noble animals may be edible, horsemeat is certainly not palatable.
Having spoken about the work of the RSPCA in a recent Commons debate, I was reminded of the huge outpouring of concern about the case of extreme cruelty to horses and donkeys at Hyde Heath. Those concerns were conveyed to me forcefully by local residents and people from across the country alike.
So I understand how people are revolted by the thought of horsemeat in the food chain. There is also profound disgust about the discovery of pigmeat in products labelled or served as halal meat.
Consumers must have confidence that the food they and their families eat is wholesome and also that it is as described on the labelling. The government is working with the Food Standards Agency, an independent body, with the food industry and other authorities and agencies in Europe.
Tests have already been ordered so food retailers, manufacturers and distributors are able to verify and trace the source of all processed beef products. The Food Standards Agency has asked producers and retailers to test all processed beef products for horsemeat.
There seems little doubt that fraud has taken place somewhere along the line because at some stage horsemeat has been substituted for beef. The DEFRA Secretary told MPs during the Commons statement that this appears to be a matter of fraud and mislabelling, but that if the investigations show that surveillance and enforcement in the UK require changes, he will act.
During that debate, I questioned the Secretary of State and said that his priority must be the safety of consumers and restoring confidence in our great British food industry.
Now Ministers in Europe are meeting to look at the wider implications for the whole European Union and the complex food chain that has produced this horrible situation.