In response to the horse meat fraud scandal where foods advertised as beef were found to contain horse DNA, the European Commission (EC) has announced revisions to its food safety laws that include increasing unannounced inspections and higher penalties.
The EC says the changes provide a modernized and simplified, more risk-based approach to the protection of health and more efficient control tools to ensure the effective application of the rules guiding the operation of the food chain.
European health officials spent months analyzing meat products after horse DNA was discovered in products offered to consumers in January. Since then, at least 4,000 samples of meat have been tested and three people arrested.
The proposed new European rules would reduce regulations covering the food chain from almost 70 pieces of legislation to five. The goal is to simplify the regulatory environment that creates a more efficient system that reduces the administrative burden on farmers, breeders and food businesses while creating more transparency of system controls at each step.
Tonio Borg, EC Health and Consumer Commissioner, said, “The agri-food industry is the second largest economic sector in the EU, employing over 48 million people and is worth some €750 billion a year. Europe has the highest food safety standards in the world. However, the recent horsemeat scandal has shown that there is room for improvement, even if no health risk emerged. Today's package of reforms comes at an opportune moment as it shows that the system can respond to challenges; it also takes on board some of the lessons learned. In a nutshell, the package aims to provide smarter rules for safer food."
The proposal must be passed by EU member governments and the European Parliament. If adopted, the new regulations would impose financial penalties directly related to profits from “fraud,” and mandatory spot-check testing.
The proposed new rules were met with criticism from Kansas State University food science professor Doug Powell, who wrote in his blog, “the changes will not affect, in the main, small and medium-sized enterprises or micro-businesses, a large part of the post-industrial food chain.”
Powell also noted, “Neither will stipulations governing the important seed sector be applied to ‘private gardeners,’ who will still be able to buy seeds in small quantities in open markets. That should doom any efforts to control raw sprout safety. After 53 deaths and 4,400 illnesses from E. coli contaminated sprouts in 2011, maybe the Eurocrats should focus on the entire food system, not just the political expediency of big ag.”