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Horse Meat Repercussions Travel Across Europe

12 February 2013

EU - Repercussions over the discovery of horse meat in processed beef products stretched across Europe this week.

Supermarkets in the UK and Ireland, Scandinavia and France were withdrawing products from their shelves.

And political leaders were calling in investigators to trace the source of the contamination and to find out who is responsible.

It is believed that the horse meat came from an abattoir in Romania that slaughtered both cattle and horses.

The products, including frozen beef lasagne and spaghetti bolognese were produced for Findus Foods and also for supermarket own brand products in factories in France.

The British secretary for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, said after a weekend of meetings with the meat processing industry, retailers and food safety organisations: "Investigations are going on across Europe, and the evidence so far suggests that it's either criminal activity or gross negligence."

In a statement to the House of Commons on Monday Mr Paterson said: "Food regulation is an area of European competence. Under the European legal framework, the main responsibility for the safety and authenticity of food lies with those who produce, sell or provide it to the consumer.

"Food businesses need to do whatever is necessary to provide assurance to consumers that their products are what they say they are."

In a meeting with the food industry in the UK, Mr Paterson called for complete testing of food.

He said he wanted to ensure meaningful results from the testing by the end of this week; more testing of products for horse along the supply chain and that the industry must cooperate fully with the FSA on this; publication of industry test results every three months through the FSA; and that they let the FSA know as soon as they become aware of a potential problem in their products.

""here needs to be openness and transparency in the system for the benefit of consumers. Retailers and processors need to deliver on these commitments to reassure their customers," Mr Paterson told the British Parliament.

"At the moment this appears to be an issue of fraud and mis-labelling, but if anything suggests the need for changes to surveillance and enforcement in the UK we will not hesitate to make those changes.

"Once we have established the full facts of the current incidents and identified where enforcement action can be taken, we will want to look at the lessons to be learned from this episode. I will make a further statement about this in due course."

Ministers and members of the European Commission have been in close discussion over the last week and the issue is to be raised at the agriculture council on 25 February.

In France, the agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll, Benoît Hamon and William Garot called together a roundtable at Bercy on Monday to discuss the traceability of meat and on the measures taken in response to the presence of horse meat in cooked beef products.

The roundtable brought together ministers responsible for consumer affairs, agriculture and agri-food professionals and slaughter, meat marketing, processing and distribution.

The agriculture ministry said: "Following a report of horse meat in cooked beef meat sold by the Findus Group, the survey conducted by the DGCCRF has established marketing channels for the meat . The investigation is ongoing to establish the responsibilities of the supply chain and to identify all relevant products marketed in France and Europe in connection with the concerned authorities of other States and the European authorities."

Following the meeting in France, President Francois Hollande said that "sanctions should be imposed" in the case of frozen meals made with horse meat instead of beef.

"There have been failures, obviously, unacceptable behaviour. Sanctions will be imposed, and administrative and criminal action if warranted," said M Hollande.

"The state has a double duty of transparency and accountability," president Hollande said, adding that "investigations will be instituted in a very short term."

François Hollande also considered as traceability, a "consumer demand" was "a duty for Europe and for France", advising consumers to buy products labelled "beef of French origin."

"Then you are sure you are not being fooled," he told consumers.

The President added: "My concern is to give consumers all the information, the transparency necessary and all the ammunition needed to expose criminal behaviour and also to ensure that we can continue to eat products from producers in France, who have nothing to do with these operations."

In Sweden, the food administration is investigating how much horse meat has been found in food products on the Swedish market.

"We are looking very seriously at the fact that Swedish consumers have been deceived by cheating with the food. Replacing beef with cheap horse meat is a crime," said Mona Lisa Dahlbom-Wiedel, head of the NFA.

NFA is mapping the extent of the cheating and will now contact the food industry and local inspection authorities.

"We have recently seen several cases of widespread cheating with food. This shows that food companies need to be particularly careful and check their raw materials and their origin.

"Food authorities in Europe also need to increase their ability to handle this type of deception," said Mona Lisa Dahlbom-Wiedel.

Findus has informed NFA that the company has discovered horse meat in the lasagne, which was manufactured by a subcontractor, and the products have been recalled.

In Sweden, Axfood, Coop and ICA withdrew several brands of lasagne because there was a suspicion that the goods have been mislabelled and may contain horse meat.

The Swedish agriculture ministry said that the foundation of European food law is that those, who produce and sell food, are also responsible for ensuring that they are safe and properly labelled. It applies to all stages of the food chain - production, manufacture, import, transport, sale and serving to the consumer - and that applies to both large and small companies.

At present the European Food Safety Authority has said that it is ready to act if needed but at present the issue is one of mislabelling and not food safety.

In a statement EFSA said: "EFSA is aware of the contamination of beef products with horsemeat in the EU food chain. The source is currently being investigated by risk managers across Europe, who have requested extensive testing to be carried out.

"In the EU food safety system, EFSA's role is to provide scientific advice to risk managers regarding food and feed safety. The contamination of beef products with horsemeat raises issues of false labelling, food quality and traceability in the EU food chain. While there is no evidence to date of a food safety concern, EFSA stands ready to provide scientific assistance to the European Commission and/or Member States should this be required.

"In the European food safety system, risk assessment is done separately from risk management. The European Commission, European Parliament and EU Member States are the key risk managers in the EU system. They are responsible for determining European policies and making decisions to manage risks associated with the food chain such as this case of entry of horsemeat into the food chain."

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