EU Commission defends role in horse meat crisis

Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 00:00

The European Commission has not been idle during the horse meat affair, the commissioner with responsibility for health and food safety said yesterday.

Addressing the European Parliament’s agriculture committee in Brussels, Tonio Borg said that, by European standards, the sequence of events regarding the European response was very rapid.

“The commission’s reaction was rapid, for when it was discovered that this was not a sporadic case only in Ireland, but similar results were evident in the United Kingdom . . . traceability was immediate.”

He pointed out that a meeting was called on February 13th, under the Irish presidency, and proposals for two sets of European-wide tests were adopted two days later.

He added it was not surprising an individual member state had discovered the horse meat issue. “Why should one be surprised that this issue was discovered by a member state? It’s the member states who adopt the measures of enforcement,” Mr Borg told MEPs.

He argued responsibility should be allocated “where it lies”, pointing out that each member state was responsible for enforcing the relevant legislation.

The European Commission announced details last week of two new Europe-wide tests to deal with the horse-meat issue. Results of the month-long programme, which may be extended by a further two months, will be published by April 15th.

Asked about the role of the European Commission’s food and veterinary office, located at Grange in Co Meath, Mr Borg said its role was to “inspect the inspecting mechanisms in the member states”.

“We do not have a body of commission inspectors who actually go out and see if the labelling is correct. In practice I don’t think this is possible,” he said, adding that this “inspectors of inspectors” system was used in other European commission portfolios.

Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness said Europe was in danger of “wasting a crisis”.

“I think we’re in danger of . . . treating the symptoms and not the underlying causes of food fraud. I believe this is an opportunity we should not waste. There’s an unwillingness to tackle this, as we’re afraid of interfering with the market,” she said.

She pointed out that the European Retail Action Plan, recently adopted by the European Commission, had identified the need for fairer and more sustainable relationships along the food supply chain.