Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes
Following my written statement on the 26th February I would like to update members on the latest position on the contamination of beef products that first came to our attention on the 15th January.
My officials and I have consulted with other UK devolved administrations and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and I am now reassured that we understand the breadth and depth of the problem. Consequently, I now believe that we need to put in place mechanisms and structures that will allow us to isolate and manage the problem whilst at the same time moving to recover from the incident and to reassure the general public that the food chain is fundamentally safe and secure. There is also a need to reflect on the events of the last few weeks and I, as well as the FSA, will be thinking of the long term implications of this incident and how we have responded to it.
On Wednesday I met with senior enforcement and procurement officers from local government and the Welsh Local Government Association to hear first hand how they have been dealing with these matters. It is clear to me that there has been a great deal of commitment from the whole of the Welsh public sector to work with industry and laboratories to tackle this issue and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved. With over 5400 tests completed in six weeks and with more tests to come, this is indeed testimony to the commitment of the industry to address concerns as quickly as possible. It is also appropriate that I extend my own gratitude to the FSA, who have provided significant support and leadership in managing the situation.
I have agreed with the WLGA and the FSA that we will work together to develop a more rigorous testing regime for the Welsh public sector to underpin and secure public confidence in future procurement arrangements. This will include a robust testing regime, an examination of the control and length of supply chain together with raising the awareness of the legal responsibilities incumbent on the supply sector that will guard against food fraud and wider food contamination issues in the public services supply chain. We must ensure the integrity of our food and the public must have confidence in the food they are consuming. Welsh local authorities will reassert to all food businesses that the responsibility for producing food that is safe and accurately labelled sits with each and every food business, whether primary producer, processor, wholesaler or retailer.
I have already made a commitment to a review of the enforcement measures available to us in Wales. I may also wish to expand this work to see how the Welsh Government and other institutions have reacted to this incident. I will make a further announcement on this matter in due course where I will provide details on the scope and terms of reference of this review.
This incident has clearly had, and will continue to have, a significant effect on consumer attitudes. The FSA’s recent consumer survey found that consumer confidence in processed meat products has fallen considerably which in turn has affected actual sales figures and the viability of some processing businesses.
In my view the Government has a responsibility to address the issue of consumer confidence and we will continue to support our meat industry and to rebuild confidence amongst consumers. Last Wednesday I began this process by launching a poster campaign for Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef with Hybu Cig Cymru. On St David’s day I visited the Tesco store in Talbot Green to lend my support for the fantastic range of Welsh products available.
This has been a very difficult time for all aspects of the meat production industry and many people and businesses have suffered because of the potential negligence or criminality of a tiny minority. The Welsh Government will continue to support both the enforcement and regulatory regimes that are in place. We also continue to support the FSA and police investigations that are underway. We will now place our emphasis on rebuilding consumer confidence and putting in place measure to underpin that confidence.