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Better food labelling – more informed consumers - 11/03/2013

Cow with a tag in each ear © EU

The Commission is working to protect consumers and ensure the integrity of packaged food sold in the EU – what you see on the label should be what you get.

EU food safety and consumer protection rules are clear: consumers must be informed of what they are buying, and all ingredients must appear on the package label.

The discovery that horsemeat has made its way into products labelled as containing beef revealed that this fundamental requirement has not been universally respected. Horsemeat can be sold in the EU, but it must simply be declared on the label like any other ingredient.

The Member States have been working to ensure that all mislabelled products are taken off the shelves.

The Commission was first informed of the problem by UK authorities on 8 February. An alert was issued to all EU member countries through the food safety information network. Once countries began testing, they found a wide variety of meat products had been adulterated with horsemeat.

What is the EU doing now?

The Commission developed an EU plan to coordinate a month long programme of testing products for undeclared horsemeat and for horsemeat containing the painkiller phenylbutazone (also known as 'bute'). It is illegal to give bute to animals meant to be sold as food for human beings.

On 15 February national governments approved the plan – with the option of extending testing for another month.

What will the EU do in future?

From 13 December 2014, EU rules will also require labels to indicate whether proteins added to meat products come from the same type of animal.

The Commission is about to make proposals on:

  • improving harmonisation of penalties in case of fraud in the supply chain
  • extending EU rules on the origin of foods to include more food types (e.g. beyond non EU eggs, honey and beef) and all meats.

Better labelling is not a means of ensuring that foods on the market are safe. Under the law, producers and retailers may only sell safe food.

What better food labelling does is allow consumers to make an informed choice about what food they purchase and how to use it safely.

More on EU food safety rules

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