Horse meat scandal poll: a third 'blame' food watchdog

The government has escaped much of the blame for the horse meat scandal unlike the UK’s foods standards watchdog, a poll of more than 50,000 MSN readers has found.

Labour has accused ministers of reacting slowly to revelations about horse meat being found in a range of food products labelled as beef.

But just one in 10 people who took part in the online survey pinned the blame on the government for the scandal, which should be a relief to ministers.

Retailers also seem to have escaped a large chunk of the blame, with just under a quarter of those polled pointing the finger at them.

The poll findingsMSN UK News

But the findings could be more worrying for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is the independent government department responsible for food safety and hygiene across the UK.

A third of those polled blamed the watchdog for the scandal.

That’s just a percentage point less than criminal activity being suggested as behind the scandal, which received the most overall votes in the poll.

Anne McIntosh, the chairman of the influential House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee, responded to the findings by saying that the FSA had been slow to respond when the scandal broke – but that the government also had to bear some responsibility.

“The FSA was caught on the back foot. They made a slow and faltering start,” said Miss McIntosh. “They have made a little bit of a recovery.”

But the Conservative MP added that the government was responsible for setting the system for monitoring food standards – and that changes it had made in terms of the FSA had muddied the waters.

Earlier this week, her committee published a report that recommended that the FSA needed "clear powers and responsibilities" to allow it to respond more effectively to any future food adulteration issues.

The government should also look at the cost of having separate production lines for different meat products amid “complacency” within the food chain, said Ms McIntosh.

But ultimately, the MP said the best way to restore public confidence was by replacing products with British goods where the source of food could be traced and high standards were in place.

An FSA spokesman said: "The people to blame for this incident are those who thought it was acceptable to cheat consumers across Europe. The FSA is now working hard to clear up their mess."

FSA chief executive Catherine Brown has said that it is unlikely that the exact number of people in the UK who have unwittingly eaten horse meat will ever be known.

She said that testing was the right way to address the issue and that the focus would be on areas of higher risk.