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European Action Against Horse Meat Mislabelling Stepped Up

26 February 2013

EU - The European Free Trade Authority Surveillance Authority has adopted a control plan for horsemeat in Norway and Iceland.

The plan was presented in a meeting in Brussels last week.

At the meeting of the EFTA Veterinary and Phytosanitary Committee, Norway and Iceland presented the actions already taken to assess the situation in the two States.

Following the discussion, the authority presented a coordinated control plan to provide for a harmonised approach of the sampling, analysis and reporting.

The committee expressed no objections and the authority consequently adopted a Recommendation outlining the coordinated plan.

The plan will last for one month and will then be subject to evaluation for possibly extending it for another two months. It foresees two actions:

  • Investigation of the presence of unlabelled horse meat in foods: The plan foresees controls, mainly at retail level, of foods destined for the final consumer and marketed as containing beef to detect the presence of unlabelled horse meat.
  • Detection of possible residues of phenylbutazone in horsemeat destined for human consumption: the plan foresees testing of 1 sample for every 50 tons of horsemeat.

The plan also provides for regular reporting of the results of the controls in Norway and Iceland to the authority, including information on sampling, type of analysis and follow-up controls. For positive findings related to horsemeat, the country where the animals concerned were certified for slaughter will also be reported.

All the information will be communicated to the European Commission and will be included in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) so that authorities in all EEA countries can immediately use them.

In Ireland, the investigation led by the Department Agriculture, Food and the Marine's Special Investigation Unit (SIU) continues in conjunction with the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

This involves forensic examination of electronic data and records associated with consignments of beef products. It also involves detailed inspections of certain food business operators including traders, transporters, processers and exporters.

The SIU is also liaising with counterparts in other Member States and Europol in relation to this pan European investigation.

The investigators discovered that B&F Meats, a small scale plant approved to debone beef and horsemeat, was despatching some horsemeat to a single customer in the Czech Republic via a UK based trader using a label in the Czech language which, when translated, refers to beef.

The agriculture department has suspended all operations at the plant with immediate effect.

Officers of the SIU entered the plant to carry out a full investigation.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said "I am seriously concerned about this development and the Gardai have been fully appraised of this development and are working closely with my Department. The issue here is one of mislabelling and that will be the focus of the investigation."

As part of the EU-wide coordinated control plan, 50 additional food samples will be checked for horse DNA during March in Ireland. These include products marketed or labelled as containing beef as a major ingredient such as minced meat, meat products and meat preparations.

In the UK, the Englsih Beef and Lamb Executive said that consumer trust in fresh, quality assured beef remains strong despite the horse meat scandal.

According to a YouGov survey, around three-quarters of respondents said they would not change their eating habits when it comes to fresh beef cuts and mince.

However, when buying burgers, 80 per cent of people now believe where the meat comes from is important, compared to 73 per cent last month, while traceability in burgers is also important to 80 per cent of people, up from 72 per cent.

In addition, 82 per cent believe an assurance mark on burgers is important, compared to 78 per cent in January, and the importance of price when buying burgers has fallen.

"The regular research that we do to monitor what influences consumer choices and what those choices are has shown that confidence in fresh beef products remains strong, with 76 per cent of respondents saying they will eat the same amount of fresh beef, 71 per cent saying the same for fresh mince. Four per cent said they would eat more fresh beef and beef mince," said Nick Allen, sector director for EBLEX, who commissioned the study.

"What we have seen is of those buying burgers, more want to know exactly where the product has come from and that it has a traceable, assured supply chain.

"There has understandably been huge media coverage of the issue of horse meat being found in certain processed meat products with complicated supply chains involving overseas suppliers. In those circumstances, messages on what is affected and what to buy can get confused.

"However, we have been working hard, along with other industry organisations, to push the message that shoppers can have confidence in fresh, assured red meat products, like those with the Red Tractor label or Quality Standard Mark, where the provenance and traceability are clear, and it does appear that the message is being heard.

"On the other side of the equation though, frozen beef products have understandably taken a hit."

The February survey also showed that 14 per cent of respondents - double the number from the January results - will be shopping for beef products most often at butchers in the future, at the expense of supermarkets.

Sixty-nine per cent of people say they have less trust in retailers generally as a result of the horse meat scandal.

Further Reading

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