Level of horsemeat DNA in beef drops

Horsemeat DNA was found in beef in 0.61% of samples. [Duncan C/Flickr]

The European Commission’s second round of coordinated pan-European testing for horsemeat DNA in beef products, launched in April this year, showed only 0.61% of the samples testing positive.

The testing was a follow-up to the exercise carried out in 2013 in the wake of the horsemeat crisis, where 4.6% of products tested positive. The scandal of horsemeat in products labelled as beef spread across Europe in early 2013, prompting product withdrawals, consumer concerns and government investigations into the continent’s food-processing chains.

Tonio Borg, Commissioner for Health, said the findings confirm that the collective efforts are bearing fruit and that increased controls to uncover food fraud are having real impact.

“Restoring the trust and confidence of European consumers and businesses in our food chain is vital for our economy given that the food sector is one of the EU’s largest economic sectors. I believe that this on-going work will continue to pay dividends. Fraudulent practices must be tackled through joined-up efforts to target the weakest links in the food supply chain,” Borg said in a statement.

Overall, 2,622 tests were carried out by the competent authorities in the 28 EU countries, as well as in Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Of those tests, only 16 revealed positive traces of horsemeat DNA. All the 16 cases are currently being followed-up by the competent authorities in the member states concerned. The Commission said appropriate enforcement measures include market withdrawal, tracing, re-labeling, extra controls at food business operator and penalties.

The EU’s executive said that the use of ad-hoc coordinated control plans has proven to be a useful tool to uncover fraud in the food supply chain and plans to make further use of this tool. The EU also wants to discuss with member states which products should be the focus of future testing schemes.

In 2013 the horse meat scandal made headline news across Europe. The story that horse meat was being passed off as beef exposed the complex nature of our globalised food supply chain. The evidence gathered did not point to a food safety or public health issue, but rather an issue of fraudulent labelling motivated by the prospect of gain.

Europe's food processing industry faced a crisis of consumer confidence and trust in the industry hit an all-time low. The Commission, together with competent authorities in the 28 member states have been working to get to the bottom of how horse meat was found to be in food products labelled as beef.

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