'Doped' animals: investigation conducted by the Italian Forestry Corps, leading to the seizure of more than 17 000 veterinary drugs in northern Italy

8 January 2014          


Andrea Zanoni (ALDE)



A scandal involving ‘doped’ animals came to light in Italy in early November 2013, when ‘Operation Muttley’ — an investigation launched by the Italian Forestry Corps in the regions of Lombardy and Emilia Romagna(1) — uncovered an organised crime syndicate that was distributing and selling drugs sourced from the black market that were intended for use in ‘fattening up’ calves and pigs reared in northern Italy. The drugs in question were administered not only to sick animals, in order to treat them so that they could then be sent on to farmers, but also to healthy animals in order to increase their muscle mass. In all cases the administering of drugs to healthy animals was carried out illegally, with no veterinary supervision.

As part of the investigation, searches were carried out in various towns and cities in the provinces of Mantua, Padua, Brescia, Parma, Sondrio, Turin and Cuneo, leading to the seizure of 17 100 packages of veterinary drugs with a total value of EUR 2.5 million.

In all, 160 people are currently being investigated, including drugs wholesalers, livestock farmers, animal traders, pharmacists, veterinarians and others. Most of them are resident in Mantua.

The organisation also appears to be active outside Italy (Monaco, Romania, San Marino). Lastly, it should be pointed out that, according to local press reports concerning the investigations carried out to date, ‘doped’ meat has certainly ended up on consumers’ plates(2).

1. Is the Commission aware of the investigation referred to above, and of the drug seizures that it has led to?

2. Can it specify whether any similar scandals have occurred in other EU Member States?

3. Can it say whether the European Union intends to take any steps to combat similar illegal practices, and, if so, what these steps will involve?

(1) Operation coordinated by the Mantua Public Prosecutor’s Office, with the involvement of the Provincial Headquarters of the Forest Corps of Mantua.
(2) cf. http://gazzettadimantova.gelocal.it/cronaca/2013/11/07/news/vitelli-e-maiali-gonfiati-80-mantovani-tra-i-160-nuovi-indagati-la-procura-la-carne-dopata-finiva-sulla-tavola-dei-consumatori-1.8070602

17 February 2014

Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

Directive 96/23/EC(1) stipulates that enforcement measures related to illegal treatment of animals for growth promotion purposes should not only cover farms containing animals, but also all stages of animal feed and veterinary drugs production and distribution. Checks must be targeted to detecting the possession or presence of prohibited substances or products intended for illegal treatment of animals.

In this specific case, the measures have led to the discovery of a network covering important quantities of illegal veterinary drugs. Member State competent authorities are required to perform such investigations whenever they even only suspect the existence of illegal treatment. In case illegal treatment is confirmed, the competent authorities are obliged to take all necessary measures to safeguard public health (e.g. prohibit animals to leave the farms, declare unfit for human consumption carcasses or products…).

However, unless the uncovered network expands to the territory of other Member States, the competent authorities reporting obligation towards the Commission are fulfilled when this information is included in their annual reports. These annual reports are compiled into an annual communication of the Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council. The most recent communications are directly accessible on the website of DG Health and Consumers: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/index_en.htm

(1) Council Directive 96/23/EC on measures to monitor certain substances and residues thereof in live animals and animal products and repealing Directives 85/358/EEC and 86/469/EEC and Decisions 89/187/EEC and 91/664/EEC (OJ L 125, 23.5.1996, p. 10).