Ireland’s agriculture, food and the marine minister Simon Coveney has said that the horse meat scandal troubling the continent is an EU-wide problem that needs an EU-wide solution.Coveney was speaking at a press conference following an ‘informal meeting of interested parties’ on Wednesday regarding the horse meat issue.
Traces of horse meat have been found in beef products in Ireland – current holders of the EU council presidency – as part of a national testing regime, however, since the discovery in January other member states have uncovered similar cases.
Coveney said, “We instigated an investigation… immediately in Ireland to find out how this has happened, whether it was some kind of freak result or whether it was something systematic in the food supply chain that was at fault.
He said that it had since been found that the issue “is not an Irish problem, but a European problem that needs to be dealt with”.
The informal meeting had been arranged to discuss a European response to the situation and was attended by representatives by all member states.
Coveney said, “Whereas the primary responsibility for enforcement of traceability, of labelling rules, of regulations around protecting consumers in the food supply chain, rests with individual member states, there is of course a coordinating role from a policy point of view for the commission.”
The Irish minister said that EU health and consumer policy commissioner Tonio Borg had been very responsive and put together proposals that will “reassure the consumers” and be put forward to the commission’s standing committee for the food chain and animal health.
Borg agreed that there had been a “rapid” response, with ministers from all member states attending a meeting on Wednesday and a proposal to be put forward to the standing committee on Friday.
Speaking at the conference, the commissioner insisted that the incident should not “undermine, in any way, the internal market”.
“The freedom of movement of goods with in the European Union is something so positive that I would consider it today to be a cornerstone of the entire [EU] in the same way that freedom of movement of persons, of capital and of services is.”
The main problem, Borg said, was “fraudulent labelling”, something which the Irish minister agreed with.
Although Coveney refused to make predictions on what will happen in the future, he was keen to emphasise that at present “there is no safety issue”.
“For the moment this is about fraudulent labelling, it’s about somebody in the food supply chain selling horse meat as beef and making money in a fraudulent way. As a result consumers have been consuming products that they thought were beef but were in fact horse meat. This is totally unacceptable.”
He said that control systems had highlighted the problem and that now policymakers would “deal with it”. “We need to find out who is responsible, how it happened and we need to put systems in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” he added.
Commissioner Borg proposed a “coordinated control plan” which would recommend member states carry out “appropriate controls at market level of products that are presented as containing beef”.
This would identify the scale of any misleading labelling practices as to the presence of horse meat.
Also, as a preventative measure, member states would be asked to test for residues of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone – also know as bute – in establishments handling raw horse meat, to “unearth any related safety concern”.
He said that the EU already has legislation on the fraudulent labelling of meat products, adding, “No one has the right to indicate as beef something that is not beef.”
“The question is who was responsible for the labelling; we are not pointing fingers yet. Some of the countries are undertaking their own investigations and are very advanced.
“The ministers have said that they want to investigate thoroughly and potentially prosecute criminally,” said the Maltese official.
Written for theparliament.com