Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy
Commissioner Borg proposes Member States a coordinated control plan on horsemeat
Informal Ministerial Meeting with AGRI Ministers of the concerned Member States
13 February 2013
I would like to update you on the most recent developments regarding the unlabelled presence of horsemeat found in certain processed food products, including burgers and beef lasagne.
First, it is important to underline that the evidence to date in relation to this episode does not suggest a health crisis.
Horsemeat, according to EU legislation, can be used for the production of minced meat and meat preparations. However, it has to be declared on the label – the animal species must be indicated on the label of minced meat or meat preparations intended for the final consumer.
The issue before us today is therefore overwhelmingly one of fraudulent labelling rather than one of safety.
The food business operator has the primary responsibility for ensuring that the requirements of European food law are met.
The Member States are responsible for ensuring the proper enforcement of EU rules. Once a food product is put on the market in the EU, it is the responsibility of Member States to check whether or not the product presents a risk and whether it complies with applicable legislation.
In the specific case of horsemeat the Commission has carried out extensive audits on compliance by Member States of hygiene requirements and residues of veterinary drugs, as our primary concern is always the safety of our meat.
The Irish and subsequently the UK authorities first drew attention to the current scandal following tests carried out by their respective Food Safety Authorities. This information was communicated through the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), which is overseen by the European Commission.
This was a simple notification of information to track the problem – it was not an alert. Alert notifications are only required when there is a potential risk to human or animal health.
The health and consumer policy authorities in the Member States are now doing what they are required to do – which is to verify who has done what, where and when.
I can assure you that the Commission is very active at both political and technical levels in co-ordinating the ongoing investigations to identify the true picture as soon as possible:
In-depth investigations are on-going in the Member States;
We are working in close contact with the Member States' competent food and consumer authorities;
We are sharing information as soon as it becomes available.
Analyses are underway to identify the possible presence of residues of veterinary drugs, especially where unlabelled horsemeat has been found.
Additional information will be circulated as soon as the traceability information has been verified and the analytical results obtained. In this respect, the co-operation between Member States and the Commission, especially on the traceability exercises underway, is reassuring.
My services have arranged for an extraordinary meeting of the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal health (SCoFCAH) for this Friday (15 February).
This meeting will provide a forum to ascertain the precise state-of-play of the on-going investigations in the Member States, and enable discussions on a possible co-ordinated response.
On the latter point, the Commission will bring to the attention of the members of SCoFCAH a draft Commission measure recommending to the Member States a coordinated control plan for a limited period of time of one month (March). Results should be communicated by Member States by 15 April.
This coordinated control plan will have to be done by all Member States but in proportion to the size of their domestic market, so as to restore the confidence of all European consumers.
The coordinated control plan will be two-pronged:
First, it will recommend to the Member States to carry out appropriate controls at market level of products that are presented as containing beef, in order to identify the scale of any misleading labelling practices as to the presence of horsemeat.
Second, as a preventive measure, it will ask Member States to carry out appropriate controls for the detection of phenylbutazone residues in establishments handling raw horse-meat, including imported goods, so as to unearth any related safety concern.
Member States should report the results back to the Commission. The Commission will also explore the possibility of co-financing of this recommended coordinated control plan.
To conclude – as I have said – we do not have, at the moment, any evidence to suggest that this scandal poses a threat to public health.
Finally, I would urge Member States to step up their investigations and circulate, without delay, any new information, so we can establish the full facts of this issue as early as possible, and thus reassure European consumers.