European ministers called the meeting in Berlin to address the EU-wide problem beef tainted with horse meat, while the UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson called for a Europe-wide overhaul of food testing in the wake of the scandal.
Paterson said that the current system relies too heavily on trusting paperwork that comes with meat shipments: "The whole problem we have is that the system ... which is laid down from above trusts the paperwork,” said the UK minister, speaking with Sky News.
“It trusts that the pallet conforms to the piece of paper,” he said. “No-one checks what is on the pallet often enough, no-one checks what is in production often enough, no-one checks the finished product often enough.”
Labelling and testing
Writing in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, German Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Protection Ilse Aigner reminded people that the European Union has strong food laws, but such rules “only make sense if they’re observed and enforced.”
Echoing the views of Paterson, Aigner has now proposed labelling meat by its region of origin or using a registry number: "It has to be the goal within the year to work on labelling that would be used EU-wide and binding for all undertakings in the common market," she said.
Paterson added that EU member states have already agreed ‘in this particular issue’ that there will be Europe-wide testing for horse DNA and that there will be Europe-wide testing for bute.
“When this is through I want to have a proper look at the whole system,” he said.
Irish food giant Greencore also announced that it is bringing in extra screening procedures for all its beef products after UK supermarket chain Asda withdrew several products because one of its sauces was found to contain horse meat.
Greencore said it was implementing "additional screening procedures in its supply chain for beef related ingredients."
"Greencore will take whatever actions are necessary to protect its supply chain going forward," it said in a statement.
The blame game
At least 12 EU member states – including the UK, France, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway - are known to be affected by horse meat contamination issues.
Last week the French government revoked the sanitary licence of leading French firm Spanghero, after investigations led government officials to believe that the meat-processing firm had knowingly passed off horsemeat in meals labelled beef.
The government presented the results of its initial investigation that said Spanghero had knowingly sold 750 tons of horsemeat mislabelled as beef over a period of six months.
Of this, 500 tons were sent to Comigel, which makes frozen meals at a subsidiary in Luxembourg. That meat was then used to make 4.5 million products that were sold by Comigel to 28 different companies in 13 European countries, said the findings released by the French DGCCRF anti-fraud office.
However Spanghero boss Barthelemy Aguerre said the government has been ‘too hasty’, after ministers said it could not have failed to realise cheap meat from Romania was horse not beef.
“I think we will prove our innocence,” he said.
Meanwhile Dutch prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into an as yet unnamed company believed to have been falsely labelling beef mixed with horsemeat.
Officials said the firm is ‘suspected of forgery, fraud and money laundering’ adding that “it is believed the company processed horse carcasses from Ireland and mixed them with beef.”