Beefburgers adulterated with other types of meat: need for a transparent set of rules on traceability in the food preparations sector for consumers

3 February 2013    
Mara Bizzotto (EFD)

At the end of January, checks carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) on burgers on sale in a well-known supermarket chain in Ireland and the United Kingdom revealed that they were not made entirely from beef, but contained a percentage of horsemeat and pork, with no indication on the label. The supermarket chain concerned claimed that its suppliers were to blame, since they had failed to comply with the required production standards, and withdrew all the products they supplied from sale.

In this case, as with the other recent scandals affecting supermarkets and meat-based food preparations, the investigations carried out to trace the origin of the raw materials used for these products have revealed an extensive network of exchanges stretching to France, Cyprus and, ultimately, Romania.

1. Can the Commission state whether it is aware of the facts described above?

2. What measures does it intend to take in this regard in order to protect European consumers from this kind of fraud?

3. Given the present case, does it not see a need to introduce stricter legislation on labelling?

4. Given the case described above and the other similar scandals that have recently come to light throughout the EU, does it not believe that the time has come to draft legislation providing for traceability in the food preparations sector, so that consumers can be certain about the origin of those preparations when they purchase food products?

Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

3 April 2013    

1. The Commission is aware of this fraud in food labelling.

2. The Commission has been active both on political and technical levels in coordinating pending investigations. It adopted a recommendation on a coordinated control plan(1) 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, a veterinary drug whose use is allowed only in non-food producing animals. A summary of all findings will be available by April 2013. The Commission is also preparing a proposal on official controls which will aim at further strengthening the existing system, including the provisions on sanctions.

3. The legislation on labelling already covers this kind of occurrence. Under existing rules,(2) the labelling of foods must not mislead the consumer as to their nature and content, all food ingredients must be indicated on the label and the labelling of foods containing meat must also indicate the animal species concerned. These rules have been recently reviewed and strengthened by the Parliament and the Council. (3)

4. As a general rule the EU legislation requires the origin on the label of foods in all cases where its omission could mislead the consumer. (4) Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 maintains this principle and also introduces mandatory origin labelling for meat of pig, poultry, sheep and goats, in addition to existing rules on beef. In addition to the above, including aspects of traceability requirements for foods of animal origin and mandatory origin labelling, the Commission would refer the Honourable Member to its answer to Written Question P‐01731/2013.(5)

(1)    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.
(2)    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.
(3)    Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, amending Regulations (EC) No 1924/2006 and (EC) No 1925/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Commission Directive 87/250/EEC, Council Directive 90/496/EEC, Commission Directive 1999/10/EC, Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Commission Directives 2002/67/EC and 2008/5/EC and Commission Regulation (EC) No 608/2004, OJ L 304, 22.11.2011, p. 18. Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 enters into application on 13 December 2014.
(4)    Directive 2000/13/EC.