Labour MP Mary Creagh has claimed that horse meat fraud was affecting the UK for years before the scandal hit the headlines a year ago.
Ms Creagh, former shadow environment secretary, made these claims on Radio 4’s File on 4 programme, which aired last night (January 28th).
She says that 9,011 horses were slaughtered in Britain in 2011 and 9,400 in 2012, but this number halved to 4,505 in 2013 after the scandal was made public.
According to Ms Creagh, much of the meat from the butchered animals had previously been entering the food chain.
The Radio 4 programme also foregrounded the difficulties faced by port health inspectors - the UK’s first line of defence against non-EU shipments entering the country - with limited staffing and resourcing.
Sandra Westacott, leader of a Southampton port health inspection team, told the presenter: “I know how much we sample, but I also know how much we don’t sample and there’s a big gap.
“Are all the things that we don’t have to sample safe? I couldn’t tell you.”
Gerry Northam, presenter of the show, referred to an incident last year when what could have turned into a major salmonella outbreak was averted by food safety sampling of chicken meat at a Northern Ireland sandwich manufacturer.
The programme claimed the infected poultry came from an European Union-approved supplier in China and came with all the relevant supporting documents, including a certificate asserting it had already tested negative for salmonella.
Chris Elliott, who is currently reviewing the integrity and assurance of food supply networks after the horse meat scandal, also appeared on the show. He called for a more coordinated, cross-border approach to tracking food fraudsters.
He used Denmark as an example of a country that provided a model for policing food fraud. In his interim report - published last year - Mr Elliott recommended setting up a UK Food Crime Unit to tackle fraudsters. He feels that conventional police units lack the expertise to deal with this type of crime.
A new European Commission Food Fraud Network has been launched recently and has already uncovered significant amounts of potentially fraudulent activity.