Horsemeat scandal

4 March 2013    
Barbara Matera (PPE)



Consumers are often the victims of scams, in this case concerning food, which can endanger their health. The presence of horsemeat in food products, which has made the headlines all over Europe in the past few days, is one of these cases.

The affair began when Findus, a well-known British food producer supplying major retailers, was reported for having horsemeat in products that were labelled as ‘beef’. An increasing number of other cases have subsequently emerged in which some of the biggest names in the food industry have been found to be using horsemeat while failing to provide consumers with information about the product purchased.

As a result, even food giant Nestlé, the parent company of Buitoni, has withdrawn tortellini from the market in order to carry out detailed tests to check for any traces of horsemeat. We have recently learned that Ikea, another huge company, has withdrawn its meatballs from sale in its network of stores following the results of tests which detected the presence of horsemeat.

This isolated case has therefore led to a string of reports involving several EU countries: Italy, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands are just some of the Member States caught up in this scam, which is harmful to consumers and may have consumer health implications, because of the drugs used to dope racehorses.

There is clearly a failure on the part of the authorities in charge of protecting consumers and above all a lack of information that would allow consumers to know what they are buying and avoid endangering their health.
In this respect, can the Commission state:
1.     which resources it can offer the EU in order to ensure greater transparency of the food process for consumers, so that the products placed on the market come from safe sources and are not harmful to health;
2.     how the EU intends to bolster the work of bodies responsible for carrying out checks along the production chain, so that similar situations do not occur in future;
3.     whether it intends to propose binding legislation concerning labelling, requiring clear information about the place of birth, rearing and slaughter, in order to prevent similar scams from harming consumers in future?


Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission
18 April 2013

1. To date, there is no indication on the subject which raises a safety issue, as horse meat can be destined for human consumption. However, undeclared presence of horse meat in food products sold as containing beef misleads the consumers as regards the content of foods and therefore constitutes fraud in food labelling. Indeed, under existing rules(1), the labelling of foods must not mislead the consumer as to their nature, origin and content and all ingredients must be labelled. Finally, the labelling of foods containing meat must also indicate the animal species concerned.

2. Food business operators are primarily responsible for ensuring that the products placed on the market comply with Union food law requirements, while the national competent authorities are responsible for enforcing them by conducting appropriate controls and imposing dissuasive and effective penalties.

The Commission is actively coordinating the pending investigations in the Member States concerned. It has recently adopted a recommendation on a coordinated control plan(2), which is co-financed by the Union at a rate of 75%, calling for EU-wide controls on foods marketed as containing beef to detect fraudulent labelling and on horse meat destined for human consumption to detect phenylbutazone residues, a veterinary drug whose use is allowed only in non-food producing animals. A summary of all findings will be available by mid-April 2013. The forthcoming Commission proposal on official controls will aim at further strengthening the existing system, including the provisions on sanctions.

3. As regards the Commission's intentions on the origin of foods containing meat, the Commission refers the Honourable Member to its reply to Written Question P-001731/2013(3).

(1)    Directive 2000/13/EC of the European 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, p. 29.
(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.