European horsemeat scandal

25 February 2013    
Mitro Repo (S&D)


As a result of the discovery made during routine monitoring by the frozen food manufacturer Findus, a number of food manufacturers around Europe have reported in recent days that the products they have been selling to consumers do not accord with the product information provided to consumers. In many cases, products have contained horsemeat instead of beef. It has emerged from discussions that in certain European countries several thousand more horses die each year than official statistics suggest. The majority of these horses die or are slaughtered in places other than slaughterhouses.

The number of horses taken to slaughterhouses is limited, inter alia, by the low producer price of horsemeat and the length and cost of the transport involved. Other obstacles to slaughter may be the fact that a horse is not registered or that medicines have been administered to it. Moreover, the charges made by slaughterhouses often do not even cover the cost of bringing a horse to the slaughterhouse.

The situation is further aggravated by the fact that, pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002 on by-products, horses which die or are slaughtered on farms constitute waste of risk Category c, and in many Member States responsibility for disposing of the carcass rests with the animal’s keeper.

As a result, many owners are interested either in burying carcasses themselves or in selling them to businesses which take them elsewhere for processing. As no one monitors such activity, it is likely that horses are illegally diverted for use as raw material in the global food industry.

1. Bearing in mind that, pursuant to Commission Regulation (EC) No 504/2008, all horses living within EU territory must have an identification document, and such particulars as the horse’s date of birth and notified date of death must be entered in a database, how is it possible for thousands of horses to disappear without trace in Europe every year?

2. What action will the Commission take to ensure that owners are given the opportunity to have their horses either slaughtered safely or else finally disposed of in some other way which safeguards public health?

3. Will the Commission ascertain where dead horses go in Europe and how many of them are, for example, surrendered for use by the food industry and as raw materials in foods intended for human consumption?

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

1. The Commission is aware of the problem highlighted by the Honourable Member, although it is not in a position to quantify it. Based on the outcome of audits in the Member States that identified shortcomings in the implementation of the current system of traceability of horses, the Commission has prepared an Action Plan that envisages to propose the mandatory recording of horse passports in a central national database and more stringent rules for and a reduction in the number of passports issuing bodies.

2. Horses and other equidae born in the EU are by default intended for the food chain, unless individual animals are declared as not being intended for slaughter for human consumption in their passport. In the latter case, strict rules are in place to ensure their safe disposal and the correct handling of their passports after death.

3. The Commission estimates that the production of horsemeat in the EU amounts to approximately 50 to 55 thousand tons per year, with a self-sufficiency of about 65%. In addition, the EU imports about 30 thousand tons of horsemeat per year.