Horsemeat scandal and consumer safety

13 February 2013    
Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu (S&D)


The recent scandal over horsemeat found in food products labelled as beef has tested consumer confidence in the food labelling system in the EU.

Given the health risk and the scale of the problem (up to 16 EU Member States have been affected by the scandal), the Commission is asked to answer the following:

1. How does it intend to prevent any similar situations from occurring?
2. What measures will be taken to increase transparency along the food industry’s supply chain throughout the EU, in order to assure consumers that the products they buy are safe?
3. What measures will be taken to restore consumer confidence in the EU food industry?
4. How will the Commission investigate the horsemeat scandal and the possibility that an international organised crime network could be behind it?


Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

25 March 2013    

To date, there is no indication on the subject which raises a safety issue. As such, the safety of foods placed on the Union market is not at stake. However, the falsification of labels misleads the consumers as regards the content of foods and therefore, it constitutes fraud in food labelling.

Food business operators are primarily responsible for ensuring that foods placed on the market comply with Union food law requirements, while the national competent authorities are responsible for enforcement, by conducting appropriate controls and imposing dissuasive and effective penalties. A comprehensive system of food safety rules is already in place at Union level, including traceability requirements for foods of animal origin(1); it is because of this system that the origin and extent of the fraudulent actions in question were quickly identified.

The Commission has been active both on political and technical levels in coordinating the pending investigations in the Member States concerned. To this end, the Commission adopted a recommendation(2) which calls for EU-wide controls at retail level in order to identify the scale of any misleading labelling practices as to the presence of beef as well as official controls to detect possible residues of phenylbutazone, a veterinary drug whose use in food producing animals is illegal. A summary of all findings will be available by April 2013. Europol is also involved in the ongoing investigations with a strong support by the Member States.

The forthcoming proposal on official controls will aim at further strengthening the existing system, including the provisions on sanctions.

(1)    Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 931/2011 on the traceability requirements set by Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council for food of animal origin, OJ L 242, 20.9.2011, p. 2.
(2)    Commission Recommendation of 19 February 2013 on a coordinated control plan with a view to establish the prevalence of fraudulent practices (2013/99/EU), OJ L 48, 21.2.2013, p. 28.