The Dutch branch of consumer watchdog, FoodWatch, filed a lawsuit against the State Secretary for Economic Affairs, the body responsible for Dutch food safety authority (NVWA), in a bid to force it to disclose a full list of the customers of Willy Selten, Dutch meat trader and director of two companies responsible for purchasing, preparing and marketing beef.
On 2 December 2015 the court ruled in favour of FoodWatch, leading to the publication of the list this week.
The NVWA had argued against naming Selten's customers on the grounds it would distort the public’s image of those companies and lead them to believe they were transgressors. The list features Europe-wide suppliers, butcher shops, restaurants and food service outlets and also includes some big names such as a branch of Domino’s pizza and Co-op supermarkets.
Both the court and the NVWA emphasised the companies that bought meat from Selten were not aware of the fraud. “The customers are, like [the] consumers, misled by Selten,” said a statement by the court.
Following the discovery of equine DNA in burgers in the UK and Ireland in early 2013, investigations by the NVWA resulted in the recall of around 50,000 tonnes (t) of beef from across Europe. As part of this, 167 samples were taken from Selten's supplies and 35 of which were found to be positive for horse DNA. He became the first to be sentenced for his part in the scandal.
In April 2015 a court in East Braban found him guilty of falsifying documents, including delivery notes and invoices, and using these fake documents for the trade of contaminated meat products with horsemeat. The court sentenced him to 30 months in prison.
FoodWatch has hailed the court’s decision as a victory for consumers and a step towards a more transparent food chain, but has called for further reforms to ensure consumers are informed more quickly in the future.
That the disclosure of the information comes a full two and a half years after the event is much too late, according to political campaigner at FoodWatch, Jurjen de Waal.
FoodWatch campaigner Sjoerd van de Wouw told this publication the court’s ruling was also important in terms of monitoring the functioning of the NVWA.
The full list can be read here.