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One Year On from Horse Meat Scandal – New DNA Tests Proposed

24 February 2014

EU - The European Commission has given the go-ahead to a second round on DNA testing of meat products to find out whether horse meat is still being used fraudulently in products labelled as beef, writes Chris Harris.

The first round of testing that was carried out in 2013 revealed that approximately 4.6 per cent of products sampled contained undeclared horsemeat.

Although there have not been any public health implications in connection with this food fraud, the Commission said that there has been a very clear reaction from consumers following this scandal that controls need to be stepped up.

It will be up to each EU country to set up their timetable.

Testing will be carried out during the spring and the Commission will collect and publish the results of these EU-wide tests by end July 2014.

One year on from the start of the scandal, when testing in Ireland revealed that horsemeat had been used in a number of beef products, the European Commission and individual countries have been putting in place a number of strict measures to ensure any future fraud is discovered and the potential for fraud is reduced to a minimum.

“The story that horsemeat was being passed off as beef, exposed the complex nature of our globalised food supply chain.,” the Commission said.

“The evidence gathered did not point to a food safety or public health issue, but rather to an issue of fraudulent labelling.

“It demonstrated that fraudsters were taking advantage of weaknesses in the system to the detriment of both legitimate businesses and consumers.

“Europe's food processing industry faced a crisis of consumer confidence and trust in the industry hit an all-time low.

“The European Commission, together with EU Member States competent authorities have been working closely to get to the bottom of how horsemeat was found to be in food products labelled as 100 per cent beef.”

Initially the Commission launched a five pint plan aimed at searching out fraud and preventing it in the future.

The Commission implemented a means of rapid communication between countries to issue alerts about violations and it started a series of DNA rtests on products across Europe.

The Commission also started to test for phenylbutazone residues in horsemeat and it set up an action programme if the drug was found in any samples.

The EU also stabled a horse passport system as a means of checking the movements of horses to prevent them entering the human food chain illegally.

A system of inspection and controls were established across Europe with mandatory country of origin labelling extended to all types of meat used as an ingredient. While this applies to beef, pork, lamb and goat and poultry it is now being extended to include horse meat, rabbit and game as well as milk, milk in dairy products, unprocessed foods and ingredients that represent more than half of the food product.

“Several lessons have been drawn from the horse meat fraud.,” the Commisssion said.

“The most important is probably that large scale, cross-border fraudulent schemes that take advantage of the weaknesses of an increasingly globalised food supply can impact hugely on consumers and operators, on thus on the economy.

“Constant vigilance from operators and competent authorities from the Member States towards economically motivated fraud, that can be perpetrated at any step of the food supply chain, is therefore needed.

“The horsemeat crisis has also confirmed the need to improve cross-border cooperation among national enforcement authorities, essential to effectively tackle fraudulent activities, and the need to mobilise in anti-food fraud activities not only food inspection services but also other law enforcement agencies (e.g. police, customs) and judicial authorities.

“Finally, last year's situation has provided further evidence of the need to strengthen the capability of the control system as a whole to assess at an early stage the potential vulnerability to fraud of the different parts of the food supply chain (based on the characteristic of the foods, the production processes, the modalities of the various steps along the food supply chain, prices, and their variations over time), and the capability of national enforcers to detect – and prevent - potential frauds. Of crucial importance is of course in this context the availability of sound methods for the detection of adulterations and the capability to anticipate as far as possible the "opportunities" for fraud along the chain (e.g. the availability and access to adulterants that can be readily disguised and undetected by currently accepted testing methods).”

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Top image via Shutterstock

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