Commission hopes horse ‘passports’ will stop food fraud

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

“I believe that closer cooperation will enhance the safeguards which prevent non-food quality horse meat from ending up on our plates," says health commissioner. Photo credit: Charles Clegg.
“I believe that closer cooperation will enhance the safeguards which prevent non-food quality horse meat from ending up on our plates," says health commissioner. Photo credit: Charles Clegg.

Related tags: Member states, European union

Member states have endorsed European Commission proposals to tighten identification rules for horses as part of post horsemeat scandal efforts to clean up food chains.

The Commission said one of the aims of the regulation, which in most cases will apply from 1 January 2016, was to “prevent the inadvertent or fraudulent slaughter for human consumption of horses which must be excluded from the food chain”​.

Foals must be given a one-off passport with a unique identification number before their first birthday, while it is hoped the creation of a compulsory centralised database in all member states will help authorities keep better track of this across different passport-issuing bodies. Those countries without an existing centralised database will have until 1 July 2016 to build one. All horses born after 1 July 2009 will also need to be micro-chipped.

Commenting on the endorsement, current European commissioner for health Tonio Borg said: "As promised, this is another lesson drawn from last year's horse meat fraud: the rules endorsed by the member states will strengthen the horse passport system in place.

“I believe that closer cooperation will enhance the safeguards which prevent non-food quality horse meat from ending up on our plates."​ 

Passports please​ 

The Commission said it would also be putting security mechanisms in place to reduce the risk of falsified equine passports. 

“The introduction of a compulsory centralised database in all member states will assist the competent authorities to better control the issuance of the passports by different passport issuing bodies. It will also substantially simplify, for the keepers, the procedures for updating the identification data in both the passport and the database of the issuing bodies,” ​it said. 

An ongoing story 

The changes follow a series of pan-EU tests ordered by the Commission in light of last year’s horse meat crisis. The latest of which revealed horse DNA in products labelled beef​ in Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary, Portugal and Slovenia in July. 

Of the 2,622 tests carried out, 16 revealed positive traces of horse meat DNA. This worked out at 0.61% of the submitted samples, down from 4.6% in comparable tests conducted the previous year. 

The Elliott Review​, a separate report commissioned by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and released last week, made eight recommendations​ around putting consumers first, zero tolerance policies on food fraud, ensuring laboratory services and recognising the value of audits. 

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