EU - Less than five per cent of the samples taken in the European-wide tests on beef products have been found to be contaminated with horse meat.
The coordinated EU-wide testing for horse meat DNA and phenylbutazonewas requested, and co-financed, by the European Commission in the wake of the horse meat scandal last month.
The tests also showed that about 0.5 per cent of the equine carcases tested were found to be contaminated with bute – phenylbutazone.
"Today's findings have confirmed that this is a matter of food fraud and not of food safety,” said Commissioner for Health and Consumers Tonio Borg.
“Restoring the trust and confidence of European consumers and trading partners in our food chain following this fraudulent labelling scandal is now of vital importance for the European economy given that the food sector is the largest single economic sector in the EU.
"In the coming months, the Commission will propose to strengthen the controls along the food chain in line with lessons learned."
The European agricultural association Copa-Cogeca welcomed the EU Commissions and Irish Presidency’ s swift response to the recent fraud concerning horse meat mixed with beef products.
Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said: “I welcome the Commissions’ rapid response to the crisis and the fact that controls in the food chain will be stepped up and penalties applied to prevent such cases from happening again.
“EU farmers and cooperatives have invested heavily to ensure that there is a good traceability system in place for beef and other types of meat. I urge the EU to ensure better use of this is made throughout the food chain. In particular, beef farmers are already up against major challenges – high input costs, bad weather, extreme market volatility – it is crucial to ensure that the beef sector and their livelihoods are not eroded any further. With food demand on the rise, it is important to maintain a viable EU beef sector”.
The purpose of coordinated testing plan, which is estimated to have cost €2.5 million, was two-fold: firstly, controls were to be carried out, mainly at retail level, of food destined for the end consumer and marketed as containing beef, to detect the presence of unlabelled horse meat and secondly, to test for the possible presence of bute in horsemeat.
The testing was co-financed at 75 per cent by the European Commission.
The number of tests that were carried out to detect the extent of the mislabelling varied between 10-150 samples depending on the size of the EU country and on consumption habits.
The criteria for the bute sampling carried out were one sample for every 50 tonnes of horsemeat with a minimum of five tests. Some Member States exceeded the number of tests recommended by the Commission.
In all 7,259 tests were carried out by the authorities in the 27 EU countries, of which 4,144 tested for the presence of horse meat DNA and 3,115 tested for the presence of phenylbutazone.
Of those tests, 193 revealed positive traces of horsemeat DNA (4.66 per cent) and 16 showed positive traces of bute (0.51 per cent).
In addition, Member States reported another 7,951 tests for the presence of horse meat DNA performed by food business operators (producers, processors and distributors).
Of these, 110 contained horsemeat DNA (1.38 per cent).
The positive samples found in relation to horsemeat DNA combined with the very low levels of bute detected represents a small part of the overall production in EU.
These results correspond with the joint statement published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on 15 April, which concluded that the risks associated to bute were of "low concern for consumers due to the low likelihood of exposure and the overall low likelihood of toxic effects and that, on a given day, the probability of a consumer being both susceptible to developing aplastic anaemia and being exposed to phenylbutazone was estimated to range approximately from 2 in a trillion to 1 in 100 million."
The results have been exchanged through the EU's Rapid Alert for Food and Feed (RASFF) which is an on-line portal that plays a key role in ensuring a high level of food safety for EU citizens since it allows European food safety authorities to swiftly inform each other of serious risks found in relation to food or feed.
The European Commission and Member State experts are to meet again on 19 April to discuss amongst other issues whether this EU coordinated monitoring plan on controls, agreed on 19 February, to investigate fraudulent practices and to enhance consumer confidence following the recent mislabelling of beef products containing horse meat should be extended.
A forthcoming Commission proposal reviewing the EU food chain legislative framework (the "animal and plant health package") which includes proposals to strengthen official controls as well as providing a legal basis to impose dissuasive financial sanctions on food fraudsters are amongst the proposals, which should take into account the financial gain made out of such fraud.
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