BRUSSELS – More tests and greater sanctions were two suggestions made by the European Parliament’s public health and food safety committee regarding the growing scandal of horse meat being purposely mislabeled as beef. The committee members stopped short of calling for additional legislation, but also called on EU member states to better respect existing rules on labeling and to better collaborate on traceability.
“For many people, eating horse is unacceptable,” said Chris Davis, a committee member representing the United Kingdom. “Imagine how much worse it could be if it were pork. Responsibility must rest with the food manufacturers. Ideally, some effort should be made for common penalties at EU level.”
Several experts told the committee that despite the public outcry, the issue, as it stands now, is not related to food safety.
“It’s a fraud issue and it is misleading the consumer but up to now, it’s not a food safety issue,” said Url Bernhard, director of risk assessment and scientific assessment at the European Food Safety Authority.
Paola Testori Coggi, of the European Commission’s director-general for health and consumers, added, “On traceability, we have the most developed legislation in the world. Fraud was detected and the meat was traced. The system worked. The commission has proposed a plan for increased controls, including DNA tests on meat.”
The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency also has instituted a sweeping testing program of beef products to ensure product authenticity. The survey will include a total of 514 products and will occur in three phases. Beef products to be sampled include all beef-based foods that are sold pre-packed or loose, such as cafe sandwiches.
Phase one will focus on minced beef products, including burgers, sausage or meat balls and will be checked for both horse and pork DNA. Phase two will include beef-based ready meals such as lasagna, chili con carne, ravioli, etc. Phase three will include products labeled as containing beef as a major ingredient, such as kebabs with seasoning. Products such as gelatin, beef drippings, stock cubes, steak, stewing steak and ready meals that contain beef that is not minced also will be included in the testing regimen.
The FSA said it will publish the results from all three phases of the study, including brand names. Initial findings will be available from the end of February and the FSA will disclose any formal action taken in April.