Horse-Meat Finding Shows EU Food-Traceability Working

The ability to track a U.K. finding of horse meat labeled as beef to a slaughterhouse in Romania shows the European Union’s food-traceability system works, a spokesman for the 27-nation bloc said.

The horse meat found in frozen prepared meals advertised as containing beef is a labeling issue, not a health one, and a trade ban wouldn’t be appropriate, Frederic Vincent, the EU’s spokesman for health and consumers, said at a press conference in Brussels today.

“The simple fact that within a few hours or 48 hours we can already have a first idea of what happened, that shows that the European traceability works,” Vincent said. “All food in the EU is traceable. The first elements of the investigation seem to lead to suppliers in Romania.”

The prepared meals labeled as beef-based and containing horse were sold by Findus Group Ltd. and manufactured at a Luxembourg factory owned by French company Comigel, France’s consumer and anti-fraud office DGCCRF reported Feb. 9.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta today said there was no evidence of wrongdoing at Romanian companies.

Romania’s Side

“So far, there is no indication that the meat mislabeling was done in Romania,” Daniel Constantin, Romania’s agriculture minister, told reporters in Bucharest. He said the names of the abattoirs in Romania were provided by the French company which is subject to the investigation. Constantin also said Romania hasn’t exported minced meat. “From Romania’s point of view the matter is closed” until new information appears, he said.

Comigel’s meat supplier was Spanghero SAS. It bought the frozen meat from a Cypriot trader that in turn sub-contracted a Dutch trader who sourced the meat from a slaughterhouse and a meat packer in Romania, according to the DGCCRF.

“If there has been fraud along the production chain, the operators have to resolve this, from a legal point, amongst each other,” Vincent said. “Someone, somewhere in Europe has sent a supplier meat that wasn’t correctly labeled.”

The EU’s general food law that came into force in 2002 made traceability compulsory for all food and feed businesses, and required livestock tagging. The bloc’s Trade Control and Expert System was introduced in 2004, creating a central database to track animals and animal-products across the EU.

Legal Avenue

“We can trace who has done what,” Vincent said. “If in the whole process there has been some fraud, the member states will have to take measures at the legal level.”

Casino Guichard Perrachon SA, Carrefour SA and four more French retailers yesterday said they’d withdrawn frozen lasagna, moussaka, cannelloni and hachis parmentier supplied by Findus and Comigel.

U.K. supermarkets including Tesco Plc, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda and Aldi have removed some ranges of frozen beef burgers from their shelves in the past month as concern has escalated over horse labeled as beef.

“The basic rule is that when it comes to products being put on the market, the member states have to check what is being put on the market,” Vincent said. “When there is a food-safety issue the commission can take measures.”

(France corrects name of supplier in seventh paragraph of story published Feb. 11.)
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