The EU yesterday (15 March) toughened oversight of the food industry in Europe, including unannounced inspections, as MEPs approved legislation to prevent a repeat of a horse meat scandal.
Millions of Europeans in 2013 were shocked to learn that a long list of supermarket items being passed off as beef or pork were in fact horse meat.
Meatballs, sausages and frozen burgers were pulled from store shelves across the EU over the find.
“Food in Europe must be zero risk and safe,” said Karin Kadenback, a socialist MEP from Austria who introduced the law during a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Consumers must be spared “deceptions” such as the horse meat scandal even if they do not necessarily harm health directly, Kadenback added.
The new law, already approved by the bloc’s 28 member states, aims to improve food traceability, combat fraud and restore consumer trust in the integrity of the food chain.
The measures, first proposed in May 2013, include tighter inspections and fines for companies found to have intentionally deceived consumers.
In addition, national authorities will be asked to follow the food industry more closely, including unannounced checks on contents and standards. Whistle-blowers will also be better protected.
The legislation covers the whole food chain, including food, feed, organic production, pesticides, animal welfare and health, and protected geographical indications.
The new measures will be applied before the end of 2019.
The horse meat scandal broke when Swedish frozen-food company Findus withdrew all its beef lasagna ready meals from supermarkets after tests revealed they contained up to 100% horse meat.
The scandal prompted calls from a number of members of the European Parliament for stronger and more transparent food safety legislation.
The agri-food industry is the second largest economic sector in the EU, employing over 48 million people and is worth some €750 billion a year. The value of crops grown in the EU is €205 billion annually.