EU seeks new labelling laws to prevent repeat of horsemeat scandal

Traceability in food chain should be improved by making meat labelling mandatory

Meat producers and sellers in European Union member states should be bound by force of law to label produce so that people know the origin of what they are eating, according to members of the European Parliament.

Meat producers and sellers in European Union member states should be bound by force of law to label produce so that people know the origin of what they are eating, according to members of the European Parliament.

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 07:33

Meat producers and sellers in European Union member states should be bound by force of law to label produce so that people know the origin of what they are eating, according to members of the European Parliament.

The call is in response to the EU horsemeat scandal which emerged first in Ireland in late 2012 when inspections revealed the presence of horsemeat in products labelled as beef.

MEPs have debated a report reacting to the scandal, written by Dutch MEP Esther De Lange, and called on the European Union Commission to suggest new laws to prevent a similar scandal in the future. A motion called on the Commission “to put forward, as soon as possible, legislative proposals to improve traceability in the food chain by making meat labelling mandatory.”

MEPs said the Commission, which has power to draft legislation but which member states must then agree to, should suggest laws “to improve traceability in the food chain by introducing mandatory labelling for those meat products specifying place of birth, place of rearing and place of slaughter where those places are different. . . [as well as] mandatory place of origin labelling for milk and milk products, unprocessed foods, meat used as an ingredient, single-ingredient products, and ingredients representing more than 50 per cent of a food product”.

The MEPs said it was essential for EU consumers to have a “legally valid EU-wide definition of food fraud. . . in order to facilitate the effective combating of fraud in the food chain”.

Approving a resolution by 654 votes to 24, the MEPs also said that there should be legal protection for food industry whistleblowers and member states should stiffen their own laws against food fraud so that the “severity of sentences is effective, proportionate and dissuasive”.

Welcoming the MEPs’ decision, Mairead McGuinness, MEP for Ireland East constituency said the vote advanced the issue of origin labelling for meat in processed foods. The horsemeat scandal highlighted the issue of food fraud and the extent of it throughout the EU, she maintained.

“From road salt used in foods, to the marketing of regular eggs as organic, to the horse meat scandal - all are examples of an ever increasing crime of ‘food fraud’. Recent incidences have created a paradox whereby food is now safer than heretofore, yet consumers’ trust is low.”

However, McGuinness said that while in general food law states that labels must not mislead consumers, there is no agreed definition of food fraud and the application varies among Member States.

“In addition the number of controls is extremely limited and as a result, food fraud remains largely undetected, especially when there are no public health or food safety implications,” she said.

BEUC, the Brussels-based consumer lobbying organization, welcomed the MEPs’ vote.

“Strong EU counter measures are vital as another fraud case was uncovered last month in France where horsemeat unfit for human consumption entered the food chain. . . Lessons from last year’s horsemeat scandals were not learned as some fraudsters are still willing to take risks for easy money.” said Camille Perrin, a food policy officer at BEUC