'Harsher penalties' needed in horse meat scandal

Updated: Tuesday, 26 Feb 2013 00:12

The EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, has called for stiffer sentences to be handed down to meat producers or traders who are involved in the horse meat scandal.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Borg said: "I hope the experience of the current scandal will persuade Member States to impose even harsher penalties - sometimes even including the suspension of licences."

The commissioner told a news conference, after a meeting of EU agriculture ministers tonight, that currently some member states were unfortunately more lenient than others in applying European law.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who chaired the talks, said he agreed that all EU countries should be "aggressively going after prosecutions" but added that more would be required to end such fraud.

He said the only reason the current scandal was uncovered was due to a previously unused DNA testing system being applied to beef products.

Mr Coveney said: "In terms of preventing fraud, we will need to mainstream - across the EU - the use of DNA testing to establish and confirm for consumers that what they think they are eating is actually what they are eating."

An EU testing programme should be completed by April and give a clearer indication as to how big the problem of horse meat in beef products actually is.

Mr Borg said a new proposal on the labelling of meat products should be completed within 3 months, and then the European Commission will assess whether or not to propose new legislation.

Meanwhile, Czech inspectors have found horse meat in meatballs made in Sweden for IKEA Group, the world's biggest furniture retailer.

The Czech State Veterinary Institute reported its findings to the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.

A spokesperson for IKEA has said the batch in question was withdrawn two weeks ago.

The meatballs were sold in Ireland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, UK, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece and Cyprus.

A spokesperson for IKEA said the affected meatballs were on sale in the frozen section of the food market and were not served in the store's restaurant.

Ikea said an investigation was ongoing and further tests on the meatballs were being carried out in Sweden.