Navigation path

eu calender
What's in it for me?
Europe in the UK
The commissioners
EP in the UK
The horsemeat saga one year on
E-mail this pageE-mail this pagePrintPrint

By Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health

One year on from the outbreak of the horsemeat scandal, let me explain what the EU has done about it and where we stand now.

First, let's be clear – this was fraud and there will never be any way of stopping all fraud in advance.

But swift action by the EU and national authorities put an end to the fraud and limited the damage.

    Tonio Borg, European Commissioner

    Tonio Borg, European Commissioner

    Just as importantly, lessons have been learned on all sides – European authorities, national authorities, food producers and retailers - so we now have better protection against this sort of criminal behavior.

    The European rapid alert system for food and feed allowed a quick exchange of data throughout the investigation.  

    The European Commission launched with member states EU-wide testing for horse DNA and the forbidden substance "phenylbutazone" (more commonly known as bute), which revealed the serious, but limited, extent of the fraud. 

    Less than 5% of the tested processed beef products contained horse DNA and of those products only about 0.6% of the horse meat was contaminated with bute.

    Let me highlight what the Commission has done and what is in the pipeline to improve Europe's food supply chain.

    We worked with national authorities to pool resources and coordinate the monitoring, inspection and testing of suspected cases of horsemeat fraud.

    We are now reviewing EU laws so that the Commission will be able in future to formally ask Member States to carry out inspections and tests.

    We have set up an EU Food Fraud Network to handle cross-border cases of food fraud quickly and efficiently. It is already busy with some 20 cases. These involve example syrup from outside the EU being passed off as honey, the addition of water to frozen seafood and the fraudulent labelling of seafood as coming from seas it never swam in.

    The Commission has put on the table draft EU measures inflicting significant punishments for all food fraud - penalties in line with the seriousness of the crime and the gains that criminals expect to make.

    Elected national Ministers and MEPs now need to act on what the Commission has proposed and make it into European law.

    Of course, such issues cannot be dealt with by national law alone because products move across borders.

    Hence the importance of FoodIntegrity, a €12m EU funded research project involving some 38 international partners from industry, academia and government institutes, which will develop new methods and systems for assuring the integrity of food and ingredients.

    We are also asking Ministers and MEPs to reinforce EU rules on the identification and traceability of horses.

    We need to make horse passports more tamper proof and set up a central database where the bodies that issue passports will lodge identification details.

    The vast majority of food businesses are law-abiding. But if we want to give consumers confidence that what they are buying is what it says on the label, we must remember we are only as strong as the weakest link in the food chain.

    Only by working with every link in that chain, from farm to fork, can we ensure that everyone shoulders their responsibilities and that gaps are closed.

    The EU food chain is probably the safest in the world. Any food item can be traced and removed from the market in a matter of hours following an alert. But without constant vigilance, we risk people eating what they don't want to eat, with all the health risks and economic damage that come with that.

    One year on the horsemeat saga is largely an unpleasant memory, rather than an ongoing news story. That shows how much has been achieved by European and national authorities and by the private sector, all working together.

    Our joint response has seen off this fraud and made another one on this scale much less likely.  And whilst last year's food fraud may not be the last, the swift and comprehensive EU response has certainly made it tougher for such crimes to be repeated.

    I believe that consumers can have more confidence in the food safety system now than ever before. But that confidence takes months and years to build up and only a few minutes to destroy. It has to be earned, every day.

    So I want to make a solemn promise: the European Union will continue to do everything in its power, every day, to fight food fraud and reassure consumers and businesses.

    Last update: 02/05/2014  |Top