A special update on the horse meat scandal across Europe from Linda McAvan, Labour MEP

This weekend, the respected food manufacturer Findus was forced to take yet more meat products off supermarket shelves after tests revealed some of their products, including beef lasagne, contained up to 100% horse meat. More retailers are withdrawing their own products and the Food Standards Agency is conducting an enquiry into what went wrong. The only thing that seems clear already is that we need to urgently review how we manage our food supply chain right across Europe.
We were, after all, supposed to have learned the lessons after the BSE crisis. Laws were changed. All cows are now double tagged and farmers are obliged to keep meticulous records for each animal which accompany it to the slaughter house. Fresh beef products have to be labelled with their country of origin. These changes should have protected the public from further food scandals. However what we have discovered in the last few days is that once that fresh beef is processed in any way, these traceability systems break down. Wholesalers supplying major food chains seem to be bulk purchasing from various suppliers, without knowing the exact provenance of their meat. Consequently this meat ends up in our lasagnes and other ready meals, unchecked and unlabelled.
Yet all this could have been very different. In 2011, new EU rules were agreed to improve food labelling. During the negotiations on the new laws, Labour MEPs proposed amendments that would extend the rules on labelling the country of origin of fresh meat, to cover products where meat was the main ingredient, such as in a meat lasagne or a chicken pie. The idea was to make sure that food manufacturers kept track of their food supply chains and to give consumers more accurate information. The European Parliament as a whole backed our proposal however industry objected, arguing cost and flexibility. They convinced Ministers, who must agree all EU laws with MEPs, to reject our proposals. Instead, a compromise was reached  to simply monitor the situation and come back to the issue in 2014.
Now with products withdrawn from shelves, millions lost to business and consumer confidence shattered, that review must be urgently brought forward. If Findus had been obliged to label the origin of the beef in its lasagne, my guess is that it would have paid much greater attention to its sourcing policies. Once again, it has taken a major scandal to make industry, and government pause for thought. When will we ever learn?
I have already asked questions of the Irish Food Minister during his appearance at the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety when the news first broke about suppliers in his country. I am now working with my Labour colleagues to put this issue on the agenda for a committee debate in Brussels next week. I know my colleague Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s shadow food Minister, is also working hard here in the UK to put pressure on the government to get a grip of this situation. Labour MEPs will support her however we can.

2 thoughts on “A special update on the horse meat scandal across Europe from Linda McAvan, Labour MEP

  1. “When will we ever learn?” Indeed! Once again, governments bow to commerce’s demand for low production costs (read higher profits) and consumers pay the price. When will we learn that our food is under-priced, so producers cut corners. Pay a decent price and use some of the taxes raised in the food supply chain (Tesco pay your taxes!) to ensure that consumers are getting more than just ‘Value’.

  2. Once again, legislators at Westminster and in Brussels are running around like headless chickens, beefing and bleating at the carnage that is the horsemeat scandal. As usual, the vested interests of the food industry have made mincemeat of them.

    Once again, we are closing the stable door only after the horse has bolted. Legislators, once again, are proving to be a reactive bunch whose arguments are only valid after the scandal has hit.

    Why did industry’s arguments outweigh Labour MEPs’? Who are the “Ministers” who disregarded them?

    Linda’s article is long on what we know and short on what we don’t know. Name these lily-livered, gutless, spineless Ministers – and their industry lobbyists – so we can get to the meat of the issue.

    In the former case we can vote them out. In the latter, we can boycott their products or shops.

    C’mon. Kick ass.

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