Horsemeat scandal ruled a matter fraud, not food safety
By Jay Keller
The European Union on Tuesday released the final results of food safety testing on beef products for horse DNA and phenylbutazone in an effort to put at rest a scandal that has impacted consumers and retailers in 17 countries across the U.K. and Europe.
The commission said that less than 5 percent of the tested products had horse DNA and that about 0.5 percent of the equine carcasses tested were found to be contaminated with phenylbutazone, commonly known as bute.
The findings, according to the food commission, confirmed the horsemeat scandal was a matter of food fraud, not food safety, and that the traces of the drug phenylbutazone did not pose a threat to humans if consumed.
“Based on the evidence gathered to date, the horsemeat scandal does not point to a public health or food safety crisis,” the European Commission on Health and Consumers said in documentation published online. “The issue is one of fraudulent labeling.”
The horsemeat scandal, which first emerged in January after Irish food inspectors found evidence in frozen beef patties, uncovered what was then called troubling food-safety issues that prompted product recalls while testing the trust of European consumers.
The joint assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) confirmed on Tuesday the “illegal presence of residues of phenylbutazone,” did not pose a threat to humans if consumed.
The agencies did say that it’s not possible to set safe levels for bute and the drug should not be used to treat or rehabilitate beef cattle.
In order to ensure food safety, food business operators are subject to strict regulation if they supply horsemeat for human consumption, including veterinary inspection.
Regulators warn that some drugs used in equine medicine are unsafe and should not ever be present in animal products distributed through the human food chain.
The fraud in this case is the attempt by suppliers to swap out less-expensive horsemeat for beef during production in an effort to increase profit margins along the supply chain, the agency says.
“Restoring the trust and confidence of European consumers and trading partners in our food chain following this fraudulent labeling scandal is now of vital importance for the European economy given that the food sector is the largest single economic sector in the EU,” Commissioner for Health and Consumers Tonio Borg said in a statement.
Borg concluded by saying the commission will work to “strengthen the controls along the food chain in line with lessons learned.”
Regardless, public confidence has been shaken as a result and the EU pledges to bolster and communicate future farm-to-fork policy changes related to instituting the proper controls and sanctioning companies who break the rules.
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