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Horsegate implications on the meat products labeling

Autor: Ilie Stoianluni, 13 mai, 2013

Horse meat scandal reached almost all segments of European meat sector. Starting with the control strengthening over product traceability determining and finishing with the final product testing, the European representatives’ actions have not bypassed actions on the labeling. Thus, the communication from March 11, this year, published on the official website of the European Commission are set out last decisions about the labeling of meat and meat products. Below we present the most important excerpts:

The label must tell the truth!

„The Commission takes measures to protect consumers and ensure the integrity of packaged food marketed in the EU and what is written on the label of the product must tell the truth about its content. EU rules on food safety and consumer protection are clear: consumers must  be informed about what they are buying and all ingredients must appear on the packaging label.

The fact that in the composition of beef products was identified the presence of horse meat shows that this basic requirement is not always respected. Horse meat can be marketed in the EU, only that, like any other ingredient must be indicated. Member States have taken measures to ensure that all products that were not labeled properly to be taken out of the market.

The Commission received first a communication made by the British authorities on 8 February. Then all EU countries have been alerted via the information network on food security. Once the Member States have conducted a series of tests, it was found that a wide range of meat products containing horse meat without that appear in the list of ingredients on the label.

European Commission developed a plan to coordinate a program of product testing. It lasted for a month and aimed to identify the presence of undeclared horse meat in products and horse meat containing phenylbutazone, given the fact that the administration of phenylbutazone to animals for human consumption is ilegal. On 15th February, EU governments have approved the plan, providing the opportunity to expand testing for another month, and further, if need will require.

From 13th December 2014, EU rules will also provide that the labels indicate whether the proteins added to meat products come from the same type of animal. Commission is preparing to make proposals on:

-improving harmonization of sanctions in case of fraud in the supply chain;
-enlargement of EU rules on food origin in order to include more product categories and all types of meat.

It is considered, however, that better labeling is a means by which to ensure that food available on the market is safe. By law, manufacturers and dealers may only sell safe food. Better labeling allows consumers to be informed on the choices about the products they buy and use them safely. The proposed measures would strengthen EU legislation on product safety and allow effective approach to threats that arise. ”

In line with the policy of consumer protection

Decided above measures have been put in direct accordance with the decisions of the European Commissioner for Consumer Protection, as they result from communication dated on 13th February, made ​​on the official website of the European Commission, thus, just 5 days after onset horse meat scandal, in which we present the following:

„Consumer product market becomes more sophisticated. People buy products increasingly complex, manufactured in a growing number of countries. EU must adapt to protect consumers from unsafe products. In these circumstances, the Commission, through the Commissioner for Consumer Protection proposes to strengthen consumer protection by:

-faster elimination of unsafe products on the EU market;
-align consumer safety market surveillance procedures by eliminating numerous distinctions existing in the current rules;
-clarifying obligations on manufacturers, importers and distributors – they would provide more information about the location of manufacturing;
-improving the ability of regulators to track products throughout the supply chain – this would get a better response in critical situations and hazardous products may be withdrawn from the market faster;
-strengthening controls so that regulators can restrict or even ban potentially unsafe products;
-create a framework to encourage cooperation in the EU regulatory authorities to facilitate the exchange of information;
-simplification of procedures for notifying other countries of the existence of dangerous goods within the EU (namely, in particular, RAPEX and ICSMS).

Europeans have only to gain from the introduction of coherent rules on consumer protection and will be more motivated to go shopping to other countries.

In turn, companies will benefit from clearer rules across the EU. Businesses, especially small ones, will be able to reduce costs and will ensure easier compliance products. A better regulatory controls on imports and product safety will result in removal from the market of unfair competition and unscrupulous suppliers.

Under the proposed measures, the Commission has already begun to take action to improve market surveillance. The proposals will be debated by the European Parliament and EU leaders, their implementation is planned for 2015.

The expert’s opinion

To have an opinion as endorsed on the above issues, we requested some clarifications from Mr. Cristian Popa, specialist in labeling issues

„In connection with erroneous labeling of horse meat as beef, two aspects deserve detailed:

First, I emphasize that according to the labeling law, must be made the difference between labeling meat as such, and labeling meat as an ingredient in another food (like lasagna). Also we must distinguish between the various national laws of EU labeling and European Directive on labeling (Directive 2000/13/EC). For example, in our country, food labeling law is GD 106/2002, so the law applies only in Romania. All these national labeling laws should be transposition of the European Directive, but between them there may still be differences. There may be differences between Romanian law, England law and / or the French law. It is possible that in some European countries, like England, to prohibit the use of horse meat in a product (eg Lasagne), while in other countries this is allowed. Therefore, it was voted the new labeling regulation (Regulation (EU) nr.1169/2011) to simplify things and to have a single labeling law throughout the European Union.

2. The new labeling rules will solve the problem of replacing beef with horse meat, because in this case it will be mentioned on the label near the name of the food. That is, near the designation of Lasagna, a statement must appear „with beef and horse meat.”

In conclusion, we can say that in the case of „Horsegate” we talk about a falsification, which for various reasons have not be mentioned on the label all the ingredients used by the manufacturer.

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