EU calls for DNA tests on beef products

February 14, 2013 - 2:43:12 am

BRUSSELS: The EU’s executive yesterday said that it would call on all European Union states to carry out DNA tests on beef products to check the presence of horsemeat.

The recommendation was part of a plan devised by the European Commission to contain Europe’s horsemeat scandal, the bloc’s health commissioner Tonio Borg said at the close of crisis talks with countries embroiled in the food crisis.

Earlier, European countries demanded more DNA testing of meat products and tougher labelling rules over a scandal involving horsemeat sold as beef that has shocked the public and raised concerns over the safety of the continent’s food supply chains. 

Officials have said there is no risk to public health from the tainted foods. But the suspected fraud has caused particular outrage in Britain, where many view the idea of eating horsemeat with distaste, and exposed flawed food controls. Ministers from the worst-affected EU nations met here to discuss their response to the scandal, which erupted after tests in Ireland showed products labelled as beef contained up to 100 percent horsemeat.

“This is impacting on the integrity of the food chain, which is a really significant issue for a lot of countries. Now that we know this is a European problem, we need a European solution,” Irish farm minister Simon Coveney told reporters.

Britain’s farm minister said the type of tests that revealed the problem should be carried out routinely in future. “I would like to see DNA testing of processed meat products during process and as finished products established as soon as possible right across every member state,” Owen Paterson said.

Both ministers urged EU authorities to propose changes to labelling rules that would force producers to give the country of origin on processed meat products. Currently the requirement only applies to fresh beef, and will be extended to fresh lamb and poultry from December 2014.

The European Commission, which oversees EU labelling rules, said it was studying the option. But officials have warned privately that the complexity of supply chains would make this almost impossible to implement. EU and national authorities are still trying to uncover the source of the suspected fraud. 

“All those countries through which this meat product has passed of course are under suspicion,” Borg told a news briefing. “By the countries, I mean the companies in those countries which dealt with this meat product.” He added that it would be unfair at this stage to point the finger at any organisation in particular.

On January 15, routine tests by Ireland’s Food Safety Authority found horsemeat in frozen beef burgers produced by firms in Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer.

Concerns grew last week when the British unit of frozen foods group Findus began recalling packets of beef lasagne on advice from its French supplier Comigel, after tests showed up to 100 percent of the meat in them was horse.

The affair has since implicated operators and middlemen in a host of EU countries, from abattoirs in Romania and factories in Luxembourg to traders in Cyprus and food companies in France.  

Germany said it was investigating a consignment of beef lasagne sent from Luxembourg to an unnamed retailer in North Rhine-Westphalia on suspicion it might contain horsemeat. The first evidence that the labelling scandal could go beyond horsemeat also emerged, as upmarket British grocer Waitrose said its testing found that some of its frozen British beef meatballs might contain pork. The firm has withdrawn the product from sale. Agencies