Pan-European beef tests endorsed by EU
The EU’s standing committee on the food chain yesterday endorsed plans for a three-month pan-European testing regime in a bid to formulate a European response to the horse meat crisis.
Some 2,250 DNA tests will take place on processed beef products across the 27 member states, to test for the presence of horse meat. Between 10 and 150 samples of food products labelled as beef will be subject to random testing by each member state.
Another 4,000 will test for the presence of the illegal substance phenylbutazone. Under the proposal, one sample for every 50 tonnes of horse meat will be tested, with each member state carrying out a minimum of five tests.
While the standing committee meets periodically to consider all aspects of EU law regarding food safety, an emergency meeting was called earlier this week in response to the horse meat scandal. Representatives from all 27 member states sit on the committee.
While the European Commission’s proposals on testing – which were outlined on Wednesday – were adopted, there was some dissent from member states, particularly those who have not yet been affected by the scandal.
The European Commission agreed to finance 75 per cent of the total costs of the scheme for the first month, higher than its original proposal to fund 50 per cent. The testing scheme will also be discussed by EU agriculture ministers at their scheduled meeting in Brussels on February 25th.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney welcomed the result as “another important step in restoring consumer confidence”, noting that the outcome was a direct result of the Irish presidency’s initiative to convene the special meeting of ministers on Wednesday.
EU commissioner Tonio Borg welcomed the swift approval of the plan, calling on member states 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 as regards what they have in their plates,” he said, following the meeting.
The horse meat scandal has thrown Europe’s food labelling laws into the spotlight.
There is a legal requirement to provide country of origin information on packaging for all fresh beef sold in the EU, with similar laws extending to pork, lamb, chicken and other forms of meat from next year.
No such information is required for processed meat products, although the commission is undertaking an impact assessment study on the matter.
Meanwhile, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, is co-ordinating criminal investigations into the horse meat scandal in different member states. On Thursday, three people were arrested in Britain on suspicion of fraud.