MEMBERS of the European Parliament (MEPs) called for more meat testing along the food chain in the wake of the scandal in which horse meat was found in product labeled as ground beef.
During a Feb. 18 debate in the food safety committee, many MEPs voiced concern over European Union member states' level of commitment to enforcing the EU's existing rules on food product labeling and urged the European Commission to step up controls.
According to a press release, most MEPs at the hearing felt that the horse meat finding was a labeling and traceability issue rather than a food safety issue, although some highlighted concerns that horses could be treated with substances like the painkiller phenilbutazone (Feedstuffs, Feb. 18), which is banned from meat for human consumption.
"It is a vast fraud, but we need to calm down on this," MEP Peter Liese from Germany said. "However, I understand that consumers don't want to be fooled into eating something they don't want."
His advice was to improve enforcement of the existing legislation, reinforce tests and introduce DNA testing.
"What shocked most people was that after the (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis, the system was supposed to have brought in traceability," MEP Linda McAvan from the U.K. added. She pointed out that rules on meat product labeling had been supported by the European Parliament but then rejected by EU governments.
"On traceability, we have the most developed legislation in the world," European Commission director-general for health and consumers Paola Testori Coggi said. "Fraud was detected, and the meat was traced. The system worked. The commission has proposed a plan for increased controls, including DNA tests on meat."
Chris Davis, an MEP from the U.K., said, "Responsibility must rest with the food manufacturers. Where is the evidence that the checks have been carried out by the national authorities? Ideally, some effort should be made for common penalties at the EU level."
MEP Carl Schlyter from Sweden warned that "focusing on low prices increases the risk of fraud" and said meat origin labeling would allow companies to build long-term links with their suppliers, thereby reducing the risk. Moreover, he said he believes "the risk of penalties should be felt by the companies."
Coggi replied that criminal sanctions are the responsibility of the member states, and the EU cannot legislate in this area.
MEP Kartika Tamara Liotard from the Netherlands urged the European Commission to be "tough on member states that don't apply the legislation," adding that "we simply need to know what's in our food."
MEP Paul Nuttall from the U.K. said, "We're not ensuring that food is safe, and we're also labeling it incorrectly. ... In this case, the meat traveled to five different countries. It is almost impossible to police."
He asked that food safety authority be returned to EU member states.