Burnley MP demands probe into horse meat in Lancashire school dinners

Gordon Birtwistle
Gordon Birtwistle

BURNLEY MP Gordon Birtwistle has called for a full investigation into how traces of horsemeat appeared in Lancashire school meals.

Horse DNA was discovered in beef cottage pies delivered to 47 schools across the county.

Lancashire County Council said the pre-prepared meals tested positive for horsemeat traces and officials acted immediately to remove the contaminated pies from school kitchens.

The authority confirmed that the meals were from an outside supplier and said results have now been passed to officials at the Food Standards Agency.

Mr Birtwistle described the news as absolutely shocking.

He said: “There will have to be a major investigation. You would think the county council would be very strict on what they buy.

“This stuff could be coming from Romania or anywhere. Why are we serving it in schools? It is a worry for parents.

“How long has this been going on? Our kids could have been eating this for 10 years.

“It is not going to make anybody ill, but it is very distressing when you may have had cottage pie with horse in it. We are being misled.”

The issue came to light after Lancashire County Council caterers submitted a range of beef products from its suppliers to be analysed by the authority’s scientific service last Thursday.

County Coun. Susie Charles, cabinet member for children and schools, said: “We share the concerns people have about what is clearly a major problem in food supplies across the UK and Europe.

“Because of those concerns we decided to seek extra assurance that our external suppliers were not providing any products containing horsemeat DNA, and one of the products has returned a positive result.

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“Relatively few schools in Lancashire use this particular product but our priority is to provide absolute assurance that meals contain what the label says – having discovered this one doesn’t, we have no hesitation in removing it from menus.

“This does not appear to be a food safety issue but I’ve no doubt parents will agree we need to take a very firm line with suppliers and it is a credit to our officers that we have been able to quickly identify the problem and take the product off the menus.”

But Mr Birtwistle questioned how county hall sourced food supplies.

He said: “My issue is why are the county council dealing with people who provide meat that is supposed to be beef but that is not beef?

“Why don’t they deal with local farmers and suppliers where they know exactly what’s in it.

“If they bought beef from local farmers and local suppliers they would know what they are getting.”

Lancashire County National Farmers’ Union chairman Fred Ollerton said that despite the council stating there were no food safety issues, there was a clear indication that something has gone wrong in the way it sources meals for Lancashire school children.

He urged county hall chiefs to take urgent action to make sure all meals it sources come from “safe, reliable, assured British farms.”

George Heys, who runs GT & L Heys Family Butchers in Burnley, said he has been left stunned by the extent of the horsemeat scandal despite stringent Government beef traceability protocols.

He said: “The Government has spent millions on beef traceability after BSE. Everything is documented so you know exactly where it has come from. There are meat inspectors and all sorts of people in the food chain so I cannot get my head round it.”

Mr Heys said in recent years more customers have been coming back to local butchers and he believes the horsemeat scandal will bring even more.

He added: “As butchers we buy our own cattle, sheep and pigs and we stand by it. We are responsible for what we sell – there’s nobody dealing with our food except us.

“We know everything that comes in the shop. We sell beef and it is beef. We make beef meatballs and it is all beef and that’s it.”