EU denies slow response to horse meat scandal

European commissioner for health Tonio Borg and Minister for Health James Reilly speaking yesterday at the end of a second day of an informal meeting of ministers for health in Dublin.

European commissioner for health Tonio Borg and Minister for Health James Reilly speaking yesterday at the end of a second day of an informal meeting of ministers for health in Dublin.

 

EU commissioner for health and consumer policy Tonio Borg has rejected any suggestion the European Commission was slow off the mark in its response to the horse meat crisis.

“No, I genuinely believe the commission rapidly reacted to this crisis,” said Mr Borg, who attended this week’s meeting of ministers for health in Dublin.

“First of all, it wasn’t a question of the absence of legislation. There is legislation that requires labelling of the animal species of the ingredient of the meat product which were tampered with deliberately for economic gain. This legislation is enforced by member states, so in fact I’m not surprised that it was a member state that first discovered the issue.”

Irish- convened meeting

A European response came five weeks after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland first announced the presence of horse DNA in Irish meat-processing plants on January 15th. That was in the form of an Irish- convened meeting of affected states in Brussels.

“One had to assess if it was simply an isolated incident or something more. Also, the presence of horse meat detected in the Irish case was much lower than was subsequently discovered in other cases. One couldn’t immediately organise something just because there was one case.”

For now Mr Borg’s focus is on the results of the European- wide tests scheduled to take place this month, with results due on April 15th.

It will be up to member states to decide what action to take on the back of those results, but Mr Borg is planning to introduce a clause in upcoming EU legislation that would oblige states to impose financial penalties on those found violating food-chain rules.

He also plans to introduce a provision that would oblige states to implement co-ordinated tests and controls. While all member states have signed up to the EU-wide tests announced two weeks ago, they are not obliged to do so. “It’s a lesson we learned,” he said.

The issue of tobacco control was also on the agenda at this week’s meeting, an area in which Ireland has led the way, Mr Borg noted, as the first European country to introduce a ban on smoking in public places.

Tobacco directive

The commission is working on a new tobacco directive, scheduled to come into force in 2015-2016, which will impose restrictions such as the introduction of pictorial health warnings on 75 per cent of cigarette packs, and a ban on flavoured tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes.

“The aim is that tobacco should look and taste like tobacco,” Mr Borg said.

He dismissed claims by the tobacco industry that anti-smoking measures could have negative economic effects, arguing that curbing smoking would generate economic advantages as ex-smokers begin to spend their spare money on other things and governments make savings on healthcare.

Mr Borg said it was ultimately a health issue. “Tobacco control should remain a health issue and should be discussed by health ministers.”