The UK's Food Standards Agency has insisted that it is "working smarter" to offset a decline in the number of food authenticity tests being carried out by food safety authorities in the country.

Local authorities have halved the number of food authenticity tests performed year-on-year, figures from the Department of Health have revealed.

The number of composition analyses fell to 16,982 for the 12 months to end-March 2013, down from 32,599 for the comparable prior year period.

The revelation, which was made public by health minister Jane Ellison in response to a question from Labour MP Kenny McCarthy, has sparked national debate in the UK.

Professor Chris Elliott, who heads the Institute for Global Food Security in Belfast and is leading the government's horsemeat review, warned that budgets must not be cut to the point where the "integrity of our supply chains" and "the safety of the food that people eat" is compromised.

Elliott stressed that, where the government is cutting back its food safety regime, the food industry is "stepping up to the mark" and increasing its own level of self-regulation.

However, the Trading Standards Institute's Andy Foster warned that a reduced level of governmental inspection could result in an increase in food fraud. "You take money out of sampling, you take money out of inspection, you take money out of the consumer protection system. You will get increased levels of fraudulent activity - and that's a big concern," he told Channel 4's Dispatches programme.

The FSA plaid down such concerns. "Consumer protection is the key priority for the FSA and local authorities," a spokesperson for the food safety watchdog stressed.

"Although the number of tests being carried out has decreased, enforcement officers are working smarter to target areas most likely to be at risk.  There were still 84,000 food safety, composition, and authenticity tests carried out during 2012/13 and the FSA has increased the additional funding it provides to local authorities to support testing to GBP2.2m (US$3.66m) this year."