Horse meat: DNA and phenylbutazone test results

8 May 2013    
Bart Staes (Verts/ALE)


1. The explanations given by Commissioner Borg concerning Parliamentary Question P‐002460/2013 were inconsistent. On the one hand, the Commission confirmed that phenylbutazone had been found in horse meat imported from Canada, but on the other hand, the answer clearly stated that according to the Canadian authorities, the documents which had to be provided were correct. Taken together, these two things show that the Commission indirectly admits that there is document fraud and that the system that is currently in place does not comply with its objectives. What specific action does the Commission propose in order to tackle these well-known problems of our food safety system?

2. Whilst phenylbutazone may be a well-known toxic product with a high probability of occurring in horse meat, other veterinary products also carry a high probability of occurrence and are also prohibited by Directive 96/22/EC. Why did the Commission not take these substances into account? Why was the assessment incomplete, given that this lowers the applicability and effectiveness of the study?

3. The DNA and phenylbutazone test results were very surprising. In the UK, for example, no single sample tested positive for horse meat, yet it was precisely this Member State that was in the eye of the storm. What were the statistical and methodological specifics of both these tests, and why was it assumed that the specifics were adequate?

4. What arguments are used to justify the fact that only one third of the samples used were imported from third countries, while different Food and Veterinary Office reports clearly state that there are several problems with imported meat, especially meat from Canada and Mexico?

5. What was the usefulness of the joint opinion from the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency on the risks of phenylbutazone? Why was it sent out a day before the test results were published, and was it referred to in the explanatory note accompanying those results? Was the objective to avoid public panic, and if not, what was the objective of this joint opinion?

20 June 2013    
Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

1. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), detected clenbuterol and phenylbutazone in horse meat that had already been exported to the EU, under the current residue monitoring programme and immediately informed the EU of this detection. CFIA thus met its information obligations(1). The Commission will continue to monitor imports and to strengthen cooperation with third countries to ensure compliance with EU requirements.

2. The first goal of the coordinated control plan was to monitor the presence of undeclared horsemeat in beef product. Residues testing was restricted to phenylbutazone, as this was the only substance detected by some Member States in the onset of the incident.

3. The sampling strategy for the implementation of the coordinated plan was decided by the Member States having regard to the national situation and in view of ensuring the representativeness of the sample. The results of the tests should be read in conjunction with the results of own-checks performed by food business operators. All results taken together show that 44 of the 111 non-compliant cases reported occurred in the United Kingdom.

4. Member States sampling strategy took into account the ratio between national production (slaughtering) and imports, and available information, including Commission experts' audit reports.

5. The objective of the joint opinion was to have an accurate risk assessment on the possible presence of residues of phenylbutazone. The Commission insisted that the joint opinion of the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency be delivered within the same time frame as the test results, in order to allow risk management measures to be taken in full understanding of both the prevalence and the seriousness of the risk.

(1)    see reply to PQ-002460/2013 at