After a week or so of Owen Paterson telling everybody who would listen that food safety is an EU competence, the Daily Express has finally woken up to the fact that food safety is er … an EU competence.
The most worrying part of the whole [horsemeat] furore, it laments, "is what it reveals about the powerlessness of those to whom we grant a mandate to run the country".
"We are unable to hold our elected representatives to account for the horsemeat scandal because they have passed responsibility over to officials at the European Commission", it wails. "There is no point in urging Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to 'get a grip' because he is not the person in charge".
But if this newspaper has finally got the message, not so opposition MPs. Yesterday in the Commons debate, we had the ghastly Mary Creagh complaining that the Secretary of State "laid the responsibility for food safety squarely on other people’s shoulders". Thus, it was for Owen Paterson to say once again:
I shall repeat myself, because it is important that Opposition Members understand this: overall, food safety is a European competence. Council regulation 178/2002 confirms that food operators have primary responsibility for food safety and quality. In the UK, under the system this Government inherited, the independent Food Standards Agency is the lead enforcement authority for food safety and authenticity.
The "independent" Food Standards Agency is, of course, a creature of Brussels, the UK branch office of the European Food Safety Authority, its task mainly to implement EU regulations.
Pity the corpulent Diane Abbott, suffering no food shortage herself, asserting that "this horsemeat scandal has clear public health implications - possible implications, but implications none the less. There is a public health dimension, so responsibility falls fairly and squarely on Government".
"For Ministers to say that the ultimate responsibility lies somewhere else is not something that the British public accept or believe for a second", she wailed. "The Government should not be hiding behind civil servants or quangos. They must accept their moral responsibility for the quality of the food that our people purchase in the shops, and for any possible threat to public health".
Kerry McCarthy similarly had trouble accepting the reality. "All food should be of a decent quality, and all consumers should know what is in their food", she declared, then proclaiming:
That is the Government’s responsibility, and I was shocked by the Secretary of State’s complacency when he answered questions earlier. He is being very slow to act, but very quick to abdicate all responsibility and say that this is a matter for the Food Standards Agency. That is just not good enough. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that people have trust in the food that they eat.
Barry Gardiner then asserts that "responsibility for food labelling policy lies with DEFRA", not realising that food labelling policy also lies with Brussels, and has done for many years.
And what of Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab)? It is too easy for the Secretary of State "to dismiss his responsibilities by saying repeatedly that retailers have ultimate responsibility for the content of food", he complains. Unless he wants the "F" removed from DEFRA, it is incumbent on him to carry out the responsibilities he already has.
The poor dears. They have given away their powers and, unlike the Express cannot cope with the awful truth of what they have done. The collective demands action, while today Owen Paterson, with a broad smile, jets off to Brussels to discuss the situation with our masters. Labour MPs are in favour of EU membership, he says. This is what they wanted. This is what they get.
COMMENT: "HORSEMEAT" THREAD