Sale of meat in the EU: ensuring traceability and quality

13 February 2013    
Diogo Feio (PPE)


Traces of horsemeat were recently found in some frozen meals manufactured by the Swedish brand Findus. In the United Kingdom, some products labelled as ‘100% beef’ were also removed from the shelves after tests revealed that they too contained horsemeat.

The French company Cogimel is reportedly responsible for most of these products which were made in a subsidiary in Luxembourg using meat imported by the distributor Spanghero, both of which belong to the French company Poujol. The company claims that it purchased the meat from a Cypriot distributor, who ordered it from a Dutch trader who, in turn, says that he bought the meat from a Romanian abattoir. This meat would have been labelled as beef with the ‘European origin’ quality mark.

1. What is the Commission’s assessment of the known facts?

2. Has it contacted the authorities in the countries involved and the companies concerned? What answers has it received?

3. Does it not believe that situations such as this jeopardise the safety of consumers and call into question the effectiveness of the so-called ‘farm to fork’ policy?

4. Does it not believe that this chain of middlemen makes it difficult to accurately establish the origin of food products sold and makes it much more difficult if not impossible to determine who is responsible for their quality?

5. Does it believe that mechanisms for tracing the origin and quality of food products sold in the European Union must be enhanced, to prevent similar situations from arising?

6. Does it not believe that a way to prevent similar situations is to promote the sale of meat, particularly meat of protected designations of origin, by respective producer associations and local businesses and to ensure greater accuracy in the labelling of such products?

7. What other measures has it taken or does it intend to take in this regard?

Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

2 April 2013    

To date, there is no indication on the subject which raises a safety issue. As such, the effectiveness of the so-called ‘farm to fork’ policy is not jeopardised. The fraud in food labelling(1) would not have been prevented by the promotion of meat from protected designations of origin or by mandatory origin labelling.

A comprehensive system of food safety rules is already in place at Union level(2), including provisions on responsibilities of food business operators and traceability requirements for foods of animal origin(3). Food business operators must be able to identify the immediate supplier(s) and immediate customer(s) of their products. As such, the system allows identifying which products were supplied by which suppliers to which customers. Therefore, traceability is ensured regardless of the number of middlemen involved in the food chain. It is because of this system that the origin and extent of fraudulent actions in question were quickly identified.

The Commission is actively coordinating the pending investigations in the Member States concerned both on a political and a technical level. It recently adopted a recommendation(4) which calls for EU-wide controls at retail level to identify the scale of the fraudulent practices as to the presence of beef as well as 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.

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

(1)    Directive 2000/13/EC of the Parliament and the Council of 20 March 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs, OJ L 109, 6.5.2000.
(2)    Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety, OJ L 31, 1.2.2002.
(3)    Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 931/2011 of 19 September 2011 on the traceability requirements set by Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the Parliament and of the Council for food of animal origin, OJ L 242, 20.9.2011.
(4)    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.