Food chain checks must be "stepped up", as consumer confidence has taken a kick in light of the horsemeat scandal, MEPs said.
According to MEPS, the "horse burger consumer confidence crisis" has highlighted the failure of EU member states in their enforcement of EU laws on food chain checks. They said a lack of "dissuasive sanctions against food fraud" was also an issue, a public health committee debate heard yesterday.
Speaking at the debate, public health committee chair Matthias Groote said there was a crisis of confidence, as more and more news about the impact and the scope of the labelling issue comes forward.
"In the past, we have discussed legislation on whether or not meat of different forms should be labelled, and member states have chosen the weakest option. We need to see how we can guarantee traceability and improve deterrence," he added.
Consumer policy commissioner Tonio Borg said things needed to be kept in perspective and added that the EU had one of the best food safety systems in the world. "But this does not mean that problems do not arise," he conceded.
Borg explained that it was member states which were responsible for enforcing EU rules. However, he said all food in all EU countries was now being tested for horse DNA, as well as traces of the painkiller phenylbutazone (bute). He said the findings would all be made available to the public.
According to Borg, a financial sanction against food fraud will be proposed to help fight the issue and restore public confidence, which has been "badly shaken". The proposal could see every member state introduce fines against food fraud, giving the message that "crime does not pay".
Meanwhile, questions were asked about the number of random inspections taking place in the EU, and MEP Linda McAvan from the UK questioned the length of time during which the mislabelling had been taking place, asking: "How do we know it will not happen again?"
Danish MEP Ana Rosbach also highlighted the ethical issues of the scandal and said: "As meat moves between different countries, it is becoming very difficult to trace, and we need a solution at a higher level. How can the European Commission guarantee that all member states actually check slaughterhouses?"
Borg said an impact assessment study to determine whether or not country-of-origin labelling (COOL) rules should apply to processed meat products may be published at the end of this summer. But he said COOL was a "completely unrelated subject to the current incident" being discussed, which was about the horse DNA discovered in burgers.
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