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Bigger fines for fake food labels

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said fraudulent labelling was to blame for the recent horsemeat scandal. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said fraudulent labelling was to blame for the recent horsemeat scandal. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Bigger financial penalties are necessary to prevent a repeat of the horsemeat scandal, according to EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg.

The scandal was a problem of fraudulent labelling and not a food safety issue, Dr Borg insisted in yesterday’s European Parliament plenary session.

In fact, the EU food safety system was among the best in the world, Dr Borg said.

“The existence of fraud does not question the validity of the rules. The problems lie in the implementation of legislation [by member states], not the legislation itself,” the Health Commissioner said.

“Economic sanctions should be at least equal to the economic gain from violating EU law,” he added.

Dr Borg was updating the Parliament on the measures he had taken since horsemeat labelled as beef was first discovered by Irish food safety inspectors in January.

Following the Irish discovery, it soon emerged that beef products contaminated with horsemeat were being sold in many EU states.

The horsemeat scandal also reached Malta, and last week the Health Directorate recalled a consignment of Artica-Ricette Italiane bolognese lasagne due to suspected contamination.

Member states agreed to coordinate testing for wrongly labelled horsemeat products on February 19.

Dr Borg said they were expected to provide the Commission with an overview of these tests by April 15, with a full report to follow shortly afterwards.

In the meantime, member states would immediately inform the commission when horsemeat was detected in any of their tests.

“To regain credibility, we have committed to making the results and report public,” Dr Borg said.

As well as introducing bigger financial penalties, Dr Borg said the Commission was looking at introducing mandatory country of origin labelling.

Although he did not believe this could have prevented the current scandal, Dr Borg said he had brought forward the deadline for a report on such labelling from the end of the year to the end of autumn.

“I have an open mind on this issue,” he said.

Martina Anderson from the United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) called for national and regional labelling of meat products, including frozen and processed meats.

“This would ensure there was a stronger onus for supermarkets to take responsibility for the supply chain,” she said.

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