EU endorses plan to fight food fraud after horsemeat scandal

The European Union on Friday approved the immediate launch of a plan to battle food fraud drawn up in the wake of a horsemeat scandal spreading across Europe.

A European Commission plan to carry out DNA tests on beef products and check in abattoirs for the presence of an equine drug potentially harmful to humans was endorsed at an extraordinary meeting of the EU's Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health.

A statement said the plan would start immediately for one month, and possibly be extended for another two.

It includes DNA checks for the presence of unlabelled horse meat in processed foods and the detection of possible residues of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory, in horsemeat.

The DNA controls, to be carried out mainly at the retail level, will include 2,250 samples across the EU ranging from 10 to 150 per member state.

The phenylbutazone test will require one sample for every 50 tonnes of horsemeat, with each of the bloc's 27 states required to carry out a minimum of five tests.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, who proposed the plan at crisis talks on Wednesday, said he welcomed the swift approval by EU member states of the plan.

"I call on them to keep up the pressure in their efforts to identify a clear picture and a sequence of events," he said in a statement.

"Consumers expect the EU, national authorities and all those involved in the food chain to give them all the reassurance needed as regards what they have on their plates".

Brussels will part finance the testing programme, with the results reported to the European Commission which will collate them in the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) so that they can be immediately used by member states.

Since the problem was first discovered in Ireland in January, governments have scrambled to figure out how and where the mislabelling of the meat happened in the sprawling chain of production spanning abattoirs and meat suppliers across Europe.

Tests in both Norway and Austria meanwhile found horsemeat in ready-to-eat "beef" meals after similar problems were reported in Britain, France, Germany, and Switzerland.