Q&A on horsemeat
How did the horsemeat scandal come about?
The problem was first picked up by Irish food inspectors who announced in mid-January that they had found horsemeat in frozen beef burgers. Subsequently, the UK informed the Commission on 8 February 2013 that a UK company (Findus UK) had been selling beef lasagne supplied by a French company (Comigel-Tavola Luxembourg) which tests showed contained between 80-100% horsemeat.
Why is horsemeat being used in products sold as beef?
It is considered that financial gain is behind this fraudulent activity given that horsemeat is much cheaper than other meats such as beef in some countries.
How widespread is the problem?
Based on the evidence gathered to date, the horsemeat scandal does not point to a public health or food safety crisis. The issue is one of fraudulent labelling. Several Member States including UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden, Poland, Romania, Italy and France are implicated. More recently, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Denmark are reporting similar findings with some processed products containing meat.
What has the EU done so far to address the horsemeat scandal?
What does the Commission propose to do in future and does it address the shortcomings identified by the horsemeat scandal?
The plan aims to restore consumer confidence in Europe's food supply chain by strengthening an array of controls. The plan consists of a series of measures falling under five key areas: 1) Horse passports; 2) Food fraud; 3) Phenylbutazone; 4) Official controls and penalties and 5) Origin labelling.
What is the EU doing to restore consumer confidence?
Public confidence has been shaken as a result of these fraudulent actions. Part of the reassurance that the Commission can provide is to remind consumers and trading partners alike that the EU has the most developed legislation in the world governing our from farm-to-fork policy which includes food traceability and labelling. Proof that the system works is visible by the early identification of those involved in the food production chain and recalling the products that were identified. Our rapid reaction has shown that the legislative system in place is sound and that we can respond swiftly using the effective tools in place without delay. However, that does not mean that there is no room for improvement.
The horsemeat scandal has demonstrated the importance of proper controls and dissuasive sanctions. To reinforce the element of dissuasiveness, a forthcoming proposal to review the rules on official controls across the agri-food chain will require Member States to establish financial penalties applicable to intentional breaches of food chain rules at a level which offsets the financial gain sought through the breach. The review will also address the call for more coordinated official controls though random testing.
Is horsemeat safe to eat?
Horsemeat can be a legitimate ingredient for the production of minced meat and meat preparations - provided it is declared on the label. Food business operators can only place horsemeat on the market if horses are slaughtered in approved slaughterhouses and the meat is subject to official veterinary inspection that ensures that it is fit for human consumption.
A joint assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded that the illegal presence of residues of phenylbutazone in horsemeat is of low concern for consumers due to the low likelihood of exposure and the overall low likelihood of toxic effects and that, on a given day, the probability of a consumer being both susceptible to developing aplastic anaemia and being exposed to phenylbutazone was estimated to range approximately from 2 in a trillion to 1 in 100 million.