Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said the Government is powerless to impose a ban on meat imports unless beef contaminated with horse meat is found to be a health risk.
The government dismissed calls for a ban on importing meat from the European Union as the horsemeat scandal spread across the continent.
He added that farmers need better policies that help them invest, to support the produce of British meat, so that we know where the food we eat is coming from.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is expected to update MPs on the horse meat scandal amid fears that the full scale of the issue has yet to emerge.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has sought to play down any concerns that the horsemeat scandal could pose a risk to the public today, after tests were ordered on meat products for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone. A Defra spokesman said:
There is currently no evidence of a risk to human health. Owen Paterson was quite clear that while we must be prepared to find more evidence of fraud, there is not a food safety risk at present.
The FSA (Food Standards Agency) has said that unless there is advice to avoid a specific product, there is no reason for people to change their shopping habits.
The Government and the FSA are working with authorities across Europe, including police, to get to the bottom of this unacceptable situation.
The government has dismissed calls for a ban on importing meat from the European Union as the horsemeat scandal spread across the continent.
The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told ITV News a band would only be brought in if beef contaminated with horsemeat was found to be a "health risk".
The shadow environment secretary has said banning meat imports was a "knee-jerk reaction", after Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told BBC1's Sunday Politics show that he would consider a ban if it was a "threat to public health".
The Government is powerless to impose a ban on meat imports unless beef contaminated with horse meat is found to be a health risk, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said today.
Appearing on BBC1's Sunday Politics show, Mr Paterson was asked if he would consider a ban if tests proved there was a food safety risk. He said: "If there is a threat to public health that is allowed within the rules of the European market.
He added: "If they find there is a product which could potentially be injurious to public health, emphatically, I will take the necessary action."
The chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has called for a temporary ban on imports of meat from the EU.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Conservative MP Anne McIntosh said: "I believe there should be a moratorium on the movement of all meat until such time as we can trace the source of contamination."
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said hospitals have a "responsibility" in making sure that patients are not served horsemeat, during his interview on BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
The chief executive of supermarket Morrison's Dalton Philips has told ITV News that new regular tests to check for horsemeat is "not the answer" and that "simplifying" the supply chain would be a better solution.