Brussels calls for DNA tests, EU police in horsemeat crisis
Published : 2013-02-14 09:05
Updated : 2013-02-14 09:05
The EU's executive called in Europe's law enforcers and urged bloc-wide DNA food testing at crisis talks held Wednesday to restore consumer confidence in a horsemeat-tainted processed food scandal.
"We do not know exactly what has gone wrong," British food and environment minister Owen Paterson told reporters as he prepared to drive to the headquarters of the Europol law enforcement agency in The Hague.
"We have to get to the bottom of these cases," he said at the close of emergency Brussels talks between countries affected by a scandal over mislabeled meat products that is widening across Europe by the day.
"This is a criminal conspiracy to defraud the public," he said a day after British police searching for the source of horsemeat found in kebabs and burgers raided two meat plants; and France became the second EU nation after Britain to find horsemeat disguised as beef in frozen foods.
The EU's health commissioner Tonio Borg, who joined eight EU nations at Wednesday's talks, said Brussels was calling on all 27 European Union states to carry out DNA tests on beef products to see if they contained horsemeat.
Borg said the Commission would also urge checks for an equine veterinary drug that can be dangerous to humans -- phenylbutazone -- in all European establishments handling raw horsemeat.
"No one has the right to label as beef something that is not beef," Borg said after the talks. "Someone will be held responsible, even criminally responsible."
Ireland's minister for farming, Simon Coveney, who chaired the snap meeting, said "it has become very clear that this is a European problem that has to be dealt with Europe-wide.
"We need to find out who is responsible, how it happened and make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.
EU ministers, Coveney said, also favored slapping a country-of-origin tag on processed meat products that currently is required only on fresh meats.
Should the proposals to tighten controls on processed foods be accepted, in the first month, in March, there would be 4,000 tests for the equine drug and another 2,500 for horsemeat, with initial results due April 15.
Brussels would put up half the funding, Borg said.
The proposals will be examined Friday at an extraordinary meeting of the EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain.
If agreed there, they go to EU agricultural ministers on February 25, Borg said, adding that Europol would coordinate inquiries currently being carried out in countries hit by the crisis.
As ministers met for the talks, Germany announced a find of suspect lasagna and Swiss supermarket giant Coop reported horsemeat in its lasagna.
"The quicker we get this resolved the quicker we can get confidence established across Europe in our food systems and the products," Britain's Paterson said.
The hastily convened talks gathered Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania and Sweden, plus Borg.
Since Britain last week discovered horse meat in frozen lasagna sold under the Findus label, but produced by French firm Comigel, the scandal has widened across Europe.
German supermarket chain Kaiser's Tengelmann took its own frozen lasagna off shelves, 24 hours after supermarkets in the Netherlands became the latest to pull ready-made meals as anger grows across Europe.
Then Switzerland's Coop Wednesday said it had found horsemeat in its own-brand frozen lasagna produced by Comigel.
Comigel, based in northeastern France, has denied all wrongdoing, saying it bought meat from another French firm, Spanghero, through its own Luxembourg subsidiary. Spanghero said it was supplied by two abattoirs in Romania.
Traders in Cyprus and the Netherlands were also reportedly involved in the supply chain
Romania has repeatedly denied being to blame and its Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin insisted on arriving in Brussels for the talks that "all the horsemeat provided by the Romanian companies that was placed on the EU market was correctly labeled."
Raids by British police and officials from the Food Standards Agency on Tuesday at a slaughterhouse in northern England and a meat-producing factory in Wales however opened a new front in the pan-European search for the source of the horsemeat.
Both sites were shut and all meat seized.
Andrew Rhodes, operations director of the FSA, said he had ordered an audit of abattoirs that produce horsemeat in Britain when the scandal arose "and I was shocked to uncover what appears to be a blatant misleading of consumers." (AFP)