Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen PatersonEnvironmental Secretary Owen Paterson has been criticised in the European Parliament for his handling of the horsemeat scandal.
UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew described the minister as being 'as impotent as a bullock or a gelding' in attempting to deal with the current crisis in meat labelling.
"13 years ago the British Government stupidly allowed the EU to have total competence over all aspects of food law" said the MEP.
"What has been uncovered in recent weeks is a demonstration of gross incompetence."
"The paper trail system that the EU has adopted to assure the provenance of produce is wide open to fraud and, as the EU becomes ever larger, it expands into countries where fraud and corruption are a simple fact of life.
But EU Public Health Committee chair Matthias Groote said meat labelling was discussed before the horse meat scandal broke but member states chose the weakest rules available.
"In the past we have discussed legislation on whether or not meat of different forms should be labelled, and member states have chosen the weakest option. We need to see how we can guarantee traceability and improve deterrence" he said.
In a public health debate, MEPs said member states failed to enforce EU food chain laws and highlighted a lack of 'dissuasive sanctions' against fraud.
"What we have now is a crisis of confidence" said Groote.
"We are getting more and more news about the impact and the scope of this labelling issue. We need to see how we can guarantee traceability and improve deterrence."
Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner Tonio Borg said member states are responsible for enforcing EU rules and reported that food in all EU countries was now being tested for horse DNA and traces of the painkiller phenylbutazone, or 'bute.'
Agnew said that under the previous system operated by the British government, the substitution of horse for beef 'would have been easily detected.'
"Depressing to note that many of our own British Members of Parliament assumed that our Secretary of State for Agriculture had the authority to act decisively in this matter, when in reality he is as impotent as a bullock or a gelding."
"It needs to be understood by Parliamentarians and voters alike that the Government no longer governs our country and, in this situation, it could not even act to protect the health of the British people. It had to go cap in hand to the EU, to beg for action."
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