Thursday, February 14, 2013

Horsemeat scandal: the dead hand of the EU

Guardian 013-fas.jpg

Consistently, from the very first, we have been characterising this horsemeat scandal as food fraud, with Owen Paterson picking up the theme of an international criminal conspiracy.

As the Environment Secretary last night was hurtling down the motorway between Brussels and the Hague, ready to meet Europol this morning, the Guardian is one amongst several newspapers highlighting the role of the shady figure of Jan Fasen, director of Draap Trading Ltd, in the sale of horsemeat to the French processor at the centre of this crisis. 

Fasen, is emerging as a key suspect in the meat adulteration, having confirmed that he bought a consignment of horsemeat from two Romanian abattoirs and sold it to French companies. 

But while he insists that the meat was clearly labelled as horsemeat, the Dutch broadcaster NOS has reported that Fasen has form. In January 2012, he received a one-year jail term for deliberately marketing South American horsemeat as halal-slaughtered Dutch beef and falsifying documents. A second Dutch meat trader, from the town of Oosterhoutse, was given community service. 

Draap Trading Ltd is a Cypriot-registered company, run from the Antwerp area of Belgium, and owned by an offshore vehicle based in the British Virgin Islands. Draap spelled backwards is the Dutch word for horse. It delivered meat to the French company Spanghero, which in turn supplied another French company, Comigel. The Findus lasagne products found in Britain containing horsemeat came from a Comigel factory in Luxembourg. 

Spanghero, on the other hand, insists that the meat delivered to its Castelnaudary plant in southern France had arrived labelled "Beef - originating in EU". The company said: "The meat received was beef meat. This was the order that had been placed. Spanghero did not treat or do anything to the meat".

This adds a further level of confusion and uncertainty, further elaborated on by the Mirror, in what is already so murky that the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project is looking in detail at Draap Trading Ltd. 

It appears that the company was registered in 2008 in Limassol, Cyprus. Its sole shareholder is Hermes Guardian Ltd, an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. A Draap representative, Andreas Mercruri has refused to disclose the beneficial ownership of the company. 

This is the sort of thing that the EU has lamentably failed to address, with authorities in Romania suggesting that international criminal networks may be involved in the opaque meat trading business. Sorin Minea, head of Romalimenta, the Romanian food industry federation, warns of "an international mafia ring behind this problem". 

Addressing these criminal elements of meat adulteration will require a huge effort of will on an international scale, and yesterday Owen Paterson got agreement in principle for a huge programme of testing throughout Europe, to identify the scale of the problem. 

The significance of this has hardly been appreciated, as it breaks away from the EU-mandated paper-based system, and puts physical testing back in the frame. That there has been no resistance from EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg is a tacit admission that the EU regime has failed. 

The BBC has it that the EU is "responding" to the scandal, urging members to conduct random tests to tackle a widening scandal. But this is hardly an adequate description. The British-led initiative has the support of the Irish, French, Romanians and the Dutch, dragging a lethargic Commission into the arena, where it has allowed criminal enterprises to flourish through its inadequate system of controls.

Irish Farm Minister Simon Coveney says, "This is a Europe-wide issue that needs a Europe-wide solution". And while that much is true, it is far from being an EU solution. The member states have recognised the problems, they are making the running, and they are putting in the resources to deal with the consequences of a system failure that has gone on far too long. 

When the dust has settled on this issue, there is going to have to be some serious re-thinking about how we manage our affairs. The dead hand of he EU is creating the problems. It is going to be the power of the nation states that solve them.