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Sunday, 17 February 2013

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Horse meat scandal: EU calls for DNA tests of processed beef

The EU has called upon its members to conduct random tests to tackle a widening scandal over mislabelled horse meat. All members should carry out DNA tests on processed beef for traces of horse meat for three months from March 1, the Health Commissioner said. Horse meat should also be tested for the presence of the veterinary medicine phenylbutazone ('bute'), he said. 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 horse meat as beef and making money in a fraudulent way by doing that," he said.

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

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 horse meat - 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 horse meat.

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 horse meat from Comigel, based in north-eastern France. Horse meat has now been confirmed in some frozen lasagne on sale in France too. In Germany, officials announced that a shipment of frozen lasagne suspected of containing horse meat 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.

 

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