Members of the European Parliament’s public health and food safety committee asked last night for horsemeat supplies within the European Union (EU) to be subjected to better traceability requirements, because of the ongoing labelling scandal.
“We have very strict rules on the traceability of bovines, and we need better traceability of horsemeat,” said an Irish member of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) Mairead McGuinness, speaking during a debate at the parliament’s Brussels building. “We need much more rigorous rules on horses if they are in the food chain,” she underlined.
However, Dr Bernhard Url, director of risk assessment and scientific assistance at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), taking part at the debate, reassured MEPs: “Horsemeat is actually a very safe product; it can be eaten raw without a big risk to the consumers,” he explained, noting there was already an EU law in place that forbids the sale of meat from horses treated with the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone. “This is not a health safety issue,” he insisted, adding that the presence of phenylbutazone in thousands of samples of horsemeat tested across EU countries over the last few years was very small.
“This fraud involved 0.02% of the horse meat that circulates in Europe,” said Paola Testori Coggi, director general of the European Commission’s health and consumer affairs directorate general. She explained that 20 tonnes (t) of horsemeat were wrongly mislabelled as beef by “the French establishment” out of about 100,000t of horsemeat circulating in Europe, noting however that the real size of the mislabelling problem will only be known in mid-April, when the results of the DNA tests across the EU are released.
“We should reflect before asking for more labelling and more traceability,” Testori Coggi said, adding that member states should impose criminal sanctions on meat producers and food manufacturers who defraud the European food supply chain. “We do not have a clear picture of what the different sanctions are from each member state in the case of food fraud,” she noted.
EU legislation says it is the responsibility of each EU member country to check that meat products are correctly labelled when sold on their territory.