The Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) has endorsed a European Commission plan to tackle the horsemeat crisis by testing thousands of beef products across Europe for horse DNA.
Speaking after the SCoFCAH meeting on Friday, EU health and consumer policy commissioner Tonio Borg said: “I welcome the swift approval by the member states of the plan I tabled two days ago and I call on them to keep up the pressure in their efforts to identify a clear picture and a sequence of events. Consumers expect the EU, national authorities and all those involved in the food chain to give them all the reassurance needed with regards to what they have on their plates”.
The plan was first unveiled by Commissioner Borg on Wednesday (13 February) following an emergency meeting with agriculture ministers from the EU countries affected by the horsemeat scandal. He explained that all 27 EU member states would be required to test representative samples of beef meat products to see if they contained any horsemeat. The minimum testing sample will be 2,500 in each country, but it could be more depending on the size of the country.
Testing is expected to commence immediately for one month, although it could be extended for another two months. “The idea is to have the DNA testing over the month of March and to publish the results on 15 April,” said Borg.
Borg also announced he will ask for European and imported horsemeat products to be tested for phenylbutazone (bute), a drug used for treating pain and fever in horses, which is deemed unsafe for human consumption and cannot be used on horses raised for slaughter.
“There will be at least 4,000 horsemeat samples tested: 2,500 samples produced in the EU and 1,500 samples imported,” Borg explained, adding the Commission would provide half of the costs incurred for these tests.
The Commissioner stressed that from the testing conducted so far, there had been no trace of phenylbutazone found in the horsemeat wrongly labelled as beef, which meant that the issue was not one of food safety, at least for the moment.
Food chain fraud
Ireland’s agriculture minister Simon Coveney, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, underlined this was an issue of fraud before anything else.
“We have fraud in the food chain where people are selling cheap horsemeat as beef and that is something we need to get out of the food chain and we need to put checks in place that this does not happen again,” he told journalists.
EU police agency Europol will coordinate the criminal investigation into the issue in co-operation with the authorities of the countries involved, he said.