In May, the European Commission (EC) adopted a legislative package aimed at strengthening and streamlining health and safety standards in the European agri-food chain, a €750 billion industry that is the second-largest economic sector in the EU. As the EC has put it, the measures introduce smarter rules for safer food, from farm to fork.
Lawmakers were already discussing plans to revamp the laws governing the agri-food chain when the horse meat scandal hit Europe earlier this year. It was in January that Irish food inspectors first revealed they had found the presence of horse DNA in frozen beef hamburger patties being sold in Ireland and Britain. Further investigations found that horse meat had made its way across Europe; one French supplier was alleged to have sold horse meat labeled as beef to 28 companies in 13 countries. The findings led to widespread meat testing by EU countries, which ultimately found the presence of horse DNA in 4.66 percent of the samples. In a few cases, what was almost 100 percent horse meat was being passed off as other more expensive proteins.
The official controls regulation would introduce stronger and more transparent enforcement measures such as unannounced inspections and testing directed at combating food fraud. It also allows for the results of such inspections to be made public, strengthens cooperation between member states and creates a common framework for border import controls—measures clearly relevant to the horse meat scandal. The regulation would impose “sufficiently dissuasive” financial penalties and the application of criminal and/or administrative penalties on operators that fail to comply.