Ikea meatballs tainted in EU horsemeat affair
Fresh revelations of mass-scale fraud on EU food labelling have fuelled ministers' calls for a joint crackdown on organised crime.
Swedish retailer Ikea on Monday (25 February) joined the list of formerly-trusted brands, such as Findus and Nestle, hit by the scandal when Czech authorities found horse DNA in a 760-kg batch of its meatballs.
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The discovery saw Ikea pull affected products from shops in 13 EU countries.
Spain the same day said it found horse flesh in a one-tonne batch of "beef" cannelloni, while German media claimed a Polish supplier sold horse-contaminated material to supermarket chain Aldi.
In an indication the problem goes beyond horses and beyond the EU, German authorities also said many of its farms have mislabelled normal eggs as "organic" produce and Switzerland found pork in kebabs for Muslim customers.
Meanwhile, a recent study in the US has shown products sold as "tuna" are, in fact, often made from other fish, such as escolar, rockfish or tilapia.
The EU's joint police agency in The Hague, Europol, is already co-ordinating criminal action on horsemeat in "several" EU countries, health commissioner Tonio Borg told press in Brussels on Monday following a meeting of EU farm ministers.
"It's an issue of fraud on mislabelling related to economic gain, because horsemeat is cheaper than beef. So not only were consumers deceived, but also economic gain was made at their expense," he said.
British minister Owen Paterson noted: "I have encouraged all European countries to share any intelligence to help co-ordinate criminal investigations across member states."
France's Stephane Le Foll said it will look to increase sentences for people found guilty.
He noted that as things stand, if you steal a basket of food in France you could get two years in prison and a €42,000 fine. But if you defraud consumers on a big scale, you risk two years and a €35,000 fine.
He added that a group of EU countries - Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal - back a new EU law on compulsory labelling on the origin of processed meat products.
The commission is to put forward first thoughts on the bill by June or September at the latest, he said.
Austria and Ireland are keen to go further by introducing EU "passports" for legitimate exporters of horsemeat or by "mainstreaming" DNA testing of food products in the Union.
But for his part, Borg noted the labelling law would not stop criminal activity.
He added that some countries oppose the move because it might boost costs for small businesses or lead to "veiled protectionism" of national exporters.
In a sign the problem is an issue of national pride, Poland's farm minister on Monday criticised "unverified" news reporting on the affair as well as previous Irish accusations against Polish suppliers.
Stanislaw Kalemba called the Irish allegations "a scandal."
"On the subject of horsemeat, Poland is as pure as a tear … Poland is beyond all suspicion," he said, using a Polish idiom.