Friday, March 01, 2013

Horsemeat fraud: it's all our fault

Borg 003.jpg

At last the Polish have admitted the obvious about horsemeat adulteration. They say they have found horse DNA in beef stored at three storage facilities in central Poland, after three samples from 121 tested proved positive. Eighty more await examination. The meat tested arrived there from various suppliers in Poland and abroad, including from the Netherlands. 

From Latvia, we also get an admission that it was common practice to label horsemeat as beef. In Soviet times, massive amounts of horsemeat came to Latvia from Latin America without being publicly mentioned. "We are aware that such practices are consumer deception, however, life is life," explained the head of one slaughterhouse. 

Spreading the network of adulteration further, however, we can add a small consignment of tinned corned beef from Latvia is being withdrawn from the UK, after tests in Germany showed the product comprised 69 percent horsemeat. The product was distributed to Germany, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. 

The extent of this fraud, details of which are growing by the day, led on Wednesday to French consumer minister Benoît Hamon to conclude that the "existing sanctions" are weak and that "there is a form of impunity for this kind of deception". He thus intends to present a Consumer Bill in April, multiplying eight-fold the financial sanctions against fraudsters. 

Under the provisions he will propose, an individual could be fined €300,000, with €1.5 million for corporations, even be extended to 10 percent of turnover. On conviction, fraudsters could also be prohibited from carrying out a business in the same field where their fraud was proved. 

It hardly seems possible, therefore, that yesterday, in an "exchange of views" with the European Parliament, EU health commissioner Tonio Borg expressed much the same intent. 

"Public confidence has been badly shaken", he said. To help restore it, a forthcoming proposal would require every member state to introduce financial sanctions against food fraud, so that "crime does not pay".

He acknowledged that a "growing number" of member states favoured mandatory "point of origin" labelling which currently applies only to fresh beef, but stressed, "Even if we had mandatory labelling it would not have stopped this scandal happening".

"Europe", he said, "has one of the best food safety systems in the world and all the evidence suggests that, unlike in the past, this is not a food safety issue but one of fraudulent labelling".

"When a scandal happens, some jump to the conclusion that the legislative system is at fault and that fundamental change is required but the legislation is sound and fraud only occurs when the rules are deliberately broken". But", he continued, "the EU does not have an army of enforcers to ensure the legislation is enforced. That is the role of member states".

So there we have it. The European Union is perfect. There is nothing wrong with its legislation. When things go wrong, it is entirely the fault of the Member States, and they must take the necessary action. 

"This scandal has caused enormous public mistrust and many people are bog-eyed about the whole thing", says Borg. "That is why we have to improve the deterrents and need better traceability".

And behind all that is the BBC. It's all our fault for expecting cheap, convenient processed foods made from raw ingredients whose prices continue to rise in the global marketplace. It's nothing to do with the EU. It's all our fault.