Horsemeat scandal: EU urges DNA tests of processed beef

Health Commissioner Tonio Borg outlines plans for DNA tests on processed beef

The EU is urging members to conduct random tests to tackle a widening scandal over mislabelled horsemeat.

All members should carry out DNA tests on processed beef for traces of horsemeat for three months from 1 March, the health commissioner said.

Horsemeat should also be tested for the presence of the veterinary medicine phenylbutazone ("bute"), he added.

Tonio Borg was speaking after a meeting with ministers from the UK, France and other affected countries in Brussels.

"This is a Europe-wide issue that needs a Europe-wide solution," Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said.

"This is about someone in the food supply chain selling horsemeat as beef and making money in a fraudulent way by doing that," he added.

Mr Borg said the programme of random tests should report after 30 days, but testing should continue for three months.

Supply chain

Analysis

There is a growing sense of urgency to reassure the public. The problem is that the European Commission and the ministers do not have all the answers.

How could they? The supply chain is global, convoluted. Yes, there may be "traceability." But even with a paper trail that stretches from Romania to the Netherlands, to the South of France, to Luxembourg, it is complex and deciphering where it went wrong is extremely difficult.

What they must develop is a picture of how wide-scale the problem is. And that is where this new testing regime comes in.

Hopefully by the end of March when they collate the first preliminary results we will get to just how many of us have unknowingly eaten horsemeat - and whether the reassurances that this is a fraud issue, rather than a health issue, are in fact correct.

Ahead of the meeting, the UK had called for EU-wide DNA testing of beef products, and welcomed developments.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: "It is completely wrong that consumers are being presented with a product marked beef and found it contained horse."

The measures follow the discovery that meat sold in up to 16 European countries labelled as beef contained horsemeat.

The scandal has raised questions about the complexity of the food industry's supply chains across the 27-member EU bloc, with a number of supermarket chains withdrawing frozen beef meals.

In the UK, the supermarket giant Tesco, frozen food firm Findus and budget chain Aldi received mince containing horsemeat from Comigel, based in north-eastern France.

Horsemeat has now been confirmed in some frozen lasagne on sale in France too.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said the scandal was a 'clear case of fraud'

In Germany, officials announced that a shipment of frozen lasagne suspected of containing horsemeat had arrived in the country. They were notified of the delivery by authorities in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

Comigel denied wrongdoing, saying it had ordered the meat from Spanghero, a firm in southern France, via a Comigel subsidiary in Luxembourg - Tavola.

The supply chain reportedly led back to traders in Cyprus and the Netherlands, then to abattoirs in Romania.

There are now calls for more specific labelling on processed meat products in the EU, to show country of origin, as in the case of fresh meat. But the cost of doing that may trigger opposition from food manufacturers.

Romania has denied claims that it was to blame for the mislabelling of horsemeat.

"There are plants and companies in Romania exporting horsemeat but everything was according to the standards, and the source and the kind of meat was very clearly put as being horsemeat," Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta told the BBC's Newsnight programme.

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