The long-awaited, EU-wide, random DNA checks for horse meat were published yesterday by the European Commission.
The EU tests found no horse DNA in beef products in Scotland or the UK (though Asda did find bute in one of its beef products during this same period), though the figures EU-wide were more worrying.
Approximately 5% of the 7,000-odd samples of beef products taken across the EU during the past eight weeks have tested positive for horse DNA. The Commission report also confirmed that about 0.5% of the equine carcasses tested were also found to be contaminated with phenylbutazone (or bute), the anti-inflammatory for horses that is unfit for human consumption.
According to the Commission report, most cases of illegal horsemeat in beef products were found in France (47 out of 353 samples), followed by Greece (33, 288) and Germany (29, 878).
The EU-wide DNA testing of beef products was proposed in mid-February following the discovery of numerous cases of horse meat being mislabelled as beef across the EU. Alyn has since called for the DNA tests to be extended to pet and animal feed and to search for all DNA, not just equine.
Alyn Smith, member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, commented:
"These figures show more needs to be done, and that in the interconnected single EU market, any weakness anywhere is of concern across the EU as a whole. We have a great story to tell in Scotland, where our producers, meat industry and butchers have been working for years on world class traceability, short supply chains and top notch product. Sadly, across the EU as a whole, the picture could do with some improvement. I am on one hand pleased that we are not talking about massive food safety issues here, but I am hardly able to welcome food fraud of this size and scope either.
"Food chains have become so long and so complicated that blind spots have developed which have allowed this fraud to continue. While this case hasn't generated a food scare, it has, as others have before it, damaged the trust and confidence of our consumers. We now need to see nothing short of a food revolution - consumers connecting, once again, with the people who produce their food. Butchers have seen their customer numbers rise which is good news and I hope these numbers continue to increase.
"The Commission will be coming forward with proposals on how to strengthen controls along the food chain in the next few months and I really do hope to see that the lessons from this saga have been well and truly learnt."
Member State and Commission experts are to meet again on 19th April to decide whether or not it is appropriate to extend the testing.
For the European Commission press release, please see http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-331_en.htm