Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 141

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 21 May 2013

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Barry Gardiner

Mrs Mary Glindon

Neil Parish

Ms Margaret Ritchie

Dan Rogerson

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Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Joanna Darmanin, Head of Cabinet, Bernard Van Goethem, Director of Directorate G (Veterinary and International Affairs), Koen Van Dyck, Head of Unit G4 (Food, Alert Systems and Training), and Jacqueline Minor, Head of the European Commission Representation in the UK, European Commission, DG Health and Consumers, gave evidence.

Q523 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome. Could I ask for your names and positions for the record?

Jacqueline Minor: Good afternoon. My name is Jacqueline Minor. I am head of the Commission’s representation to the United Kingdom.

Bernard Van Goethem: Hello. My name is Bernard Van Goethem, and I am Director in the Commission, working for Consumer and Health, but more specifically veterinary and international affairs.

Joanna Darmanin: My name is Joanna Darmanin, and I am the Head of Cabinet of commissioner boards responsible for consumer protection and public health.

Koen Van Dyck: I am Koen Van Dyck. I am the Head of Unit in the directorate of Bernard Van Goethem, dealing with food and feed hygiene and the rapid alert system.

Q524 Chair: We are extremely grateful to you for being with us this afternoon, and we understand that you have time constraints, so the Committee will try and accommodate that.

Nearly 5% of food samples of those tested were found to contain horsemeat. Is this not particularly alarming, given the size of the meat industry in the EU?

Joanna Darmanin: Madam Chairperson, if I can just recall some of the facts and timelines around this issue, because I think it is important, as we step away from the actions we have taken and look at the long haul, and learn the lessons. This whole incident started on Friday 8 February, when we were first informed by the United Kingdom of the first findings of horsemeat presence in beef lasagne. This was followed by notifications by Luxembourg, I believe, the day after, on the 9th. By 11 February, we had a pretty good picture.

Q525 Chair: Could we just stop for one moment? We know that our own Food Standards Agency were informed by Ireland-the food safety agency in Ireland-that testing for horsemeat was started in November. Are you saying that the European Food Standards Agency and the Commission were not informed that those tests were being carried out in November?

Joanna Darmanin: No.

Q526 Chair: You were not informed. Could you just repeat who first informed you?

Joanna Darmanin: The first notification via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) was done by the United Kingdom. I believe that was on 8 February.

Q527 Chair: So you were not informed at all by what was happening in the Irish FSA.

Joanna Darmanin: I believe we had some information about the Irish-that there was some Irish testing that was undertaken on their own initiative some time towards the end of January, but Bernard can correct me. Then the official RASFF notification was on 8 February, after which time it kicked in a series of actions taken at EU level. Just to remind you that five days after the UK notification-

Q528 Chair: You are very kind, but I think we have the timeframe in the documentation you have provided, so it would probably be better if we allow the time for questions, given the short time available. Can I just ask: the European Food Safety Authority will provide you with the information on their work?

Joanna Darmanin: No; this was something that came through the RASFF system and not EFSA. What happened was that on 13 February, when there was the ministerial meeting, we asked EMA and EFSA-so the European Medicines Agency and the Food Safety Authority-to give us a joint assessment on the issue of bute, on which there were some issues about whether there was a health risk or not.

Q529 Chair: Bute is important, undoubtedly, but we are concerned about the fraud, and the evidence that we have taken that this was horsemeat being passed off as beef. We will come on to bute in a moment, but what we are concerned about is when you first heard about the passing­off, and whether you were surprised and shocked by the scale of the fraud, or whether you took it for granted.

Joanna Darmanin: No. We take nothing for granted, especially as it affects our food chain, but this was not an issue of risk. EFSA was not involved until that point in time when we asked for the risk assessment on bute, together with EMA. We took it very seriously, because within five days of the initial notification by the United Kingdom, we held an informal ministerial meeting in Brussels under the auspices of the Commission and of the Irish Presidency, where we took a number of actions.

Q530 Chair: I am very sorry, but we are quite familiar, because you have given us the written documentation, with all the meetings. What we are trying to hear from you is whether you were shocked.

Joanna Darmanin: Yes, I think we were all a little bit taken aback by the scale of the issue. Having said that, you will have also seen that we found after the testing results came in that there was 5% incidence in terms of adulteration of horsemeat. That, I have to say-as the Commissioner said-is 5% too much, so we have to underscore that element, but nevertheless it remains rather limited in its scale. That does not mean that we do not have to learn the lessons and take the actions, but nevertheless I believe, at European level, we did act fast enough to try to take the necessary measures to restore consumer confidence, because this is what this crisis dented severely.

Q531 Chair: Given that it is some four months since it was first discovered, can you tell the Committee if you now know the main sources of the horsemeat, and at what point it entered the food chain?

Joanna Darmanin: The enforcement action and the responsibility for the control lie very much with the member states. Investigations are ongoing in the various member states, so, no, we do not have an overview of where we are. We are informed of specific cases. There was an example, which was something that was very much in the public domain, with the issue with Spangero and what happened in France. There was also the issue with the Netherlands, but as yet, it is not something where we can say we can put our finger on the exact source, because it is likely to be much more complex than that. We will have an overview, I believe, once investigations come to a close.

Q532 Chair: Before we move on to the investigations, which are ongoing, can I just ask: did neither the Cabinet nor the Service see any correlation at all between the ban on desinewed meat, which took effect in about March 2012-and we now know that certainly the Irish believe the fraud first commenced in March 2012-and the passing­off of horsemeat?

Joanna Darmanin: No. We do not see any link between mechanically separated meat and horsemeat.

Chair: We will come on and explore that in a moment.

Q533 Ms Ritchie: You are very welcome. We understand that, in several member states, criminal investigations are ongoing. Can you tell us how many investigations are ongoing, and in which member states?

Joanna Darmanin: We do not have that information available. I understand that there has been a request to discuss the outcome of the action plan, the recommendation, the testing results and the follow­up, and the lessons learned in the agriculture council in June. I expect that a number of member states may indeed share that sort of information with the Commission there.

Q534 Ms Ritchie: What is the likelihood that there could be, or will be, criminal or civil prosecutions?

Joanna Darmanin: The issue of criminal or civil prosecutions, and the issue of sanctions, as you well know, is very much something that is in the hands of the member states. Just to remind you, this was one of the issues that we took up as a result of what we saw in the horsemeat scandal. In our proposal on the control regulation that was adopted on 6 May, we have already incorporated the issue of ensuring that sanctions and penalties in the case of food fraud would have to offset the economic gain of any fraud that is undertaken with respect to the food chain. Once this legislation gets through, we will have the proper legal basis to ensure that the member states do indeed take sanctions that are dissuasive, so that food fraud does not become part of the operation of food business operators.

Q535 Ms Ritchie: If I get you correctly, you are saying that at this moment, and in the past, member states have not been sharing intelligence.

Joanna Darmanin: They do not share intelligence on sanctions. It is a competence of the member states, jealously guarded by the member states.

Q536 Ms Ritchie: Have they shared any intelligence in relation to investigations?

Joanna Darmanin: I think there has been some sharing of information relating to ongoing investigations, but we certainly do not have an overview. I expect that that should become available, hopefully within the context of the potential discussion in the agriculture council in June. I am not sure of the dates of the agriculture council in June.

Q537 Chair: Could you just elaborate on that? Surely there must be suspicions in the various member states as to what the source of the horsemeat into the food chain was, and you said at the outset that you wish to restore consumer confidence. Surely the best way of restoring consumer confidence-particularly in the processed food market, which is certainly very, very important in Britain and Ireland-is to get to the heart of where the fraud started, to be sure that it does not happen again.

Joanna Darmanin: From an EU perspective, there is a level at which our competence kicks in. On the issue of criminal sanctions, et cetera, it is very much up to the member states.

Q538 Chair: I am not talking about sanctions. I think sanctions are obviously the domain of member states. We do not want to get the EU involved. I am talking about intelligence as to where the horsemeat originated from, and where the horsemeat entered the food chain.

Joanna Darmanin: The enforcement powers rest with the member states. What the Commission does, and has done, in this case-

Q539 Chair: Either I am not being clear, or you are misunderstanding the question. I am talking about intelligence. This is nothing to do with enforcement. I am talking about intelligence as to where the horsemeat entered the EU and in which country of the EU it entered into another, so that we can share that intelligence and be sure that it will not happen again.

Joanna Darmanin: I believe that once the member states complete their investigations, we should have a clearer picture, and then it is the sort of information that can be shared in the context of lessons learned.

Q540 Chair: So you have not got that information.

Joanna Darmanin: No, not at the moment.

Q541 Chair: Are you surprised that no prosecutions have been brought?

Joanna Darmanin: I believe there were prosecutions in the cases of France and the Netherlands. There were prosecutions, I believe, for Spangero. If I am not mistaken, they actually suspended the operation of the whole plant, and then relicensed it under limited conditions and excluded the part that had led to the problem, which came from that particular source. I am not saying that the source for the whole of the issue came from this particular plant, but certainly that was one issue in the case of the Netherlands, which came late in the testing process. There are ongoing investigations. I do not believe they have yet managed to get to a very specific point, but we are sharing information with them. Once they have that source, I assume that they will be taking action on that.

Q542 Chair: We are going to move to traceability, but before we do, could you just explain how port entry controls of meat imports into the EU currently work, and who polices them?

Joanna Darmanin: For imports of meat, these have to pass through border inspection posts, which are established ports in designated areas around the different member states. In the case of animals and animal by­products, before a shipment comes in of animal origin, they are to notify the customs authorities and competent authorities, and then consignments are inspected for various issues.

Q543 Chair: Can you just confirm to the Committee that the inspection covers both physical checks of the meat-to see that it is beef, not horsemeat-and label checks at the same time?

Joanna Darmanin: Yes.

Q544 Chair: Who polices that the port state authorities are performing these checks?

Joanna Darmanin: It is different in the different member states.

Q545 Chair: So it is entirely done on trust.

Joanna Darmanin: No, not on trust. They have customs inspectors. In cases, you have veterinarians who are there on the spot to check a particular cargo or a particular consignment. It is not on trust. There will be physical inspections, and also documentary evidence to make sure that it matches. This is why they are obliged to give notice to the port that they will be arriving with this-48­hour notice, if I am not mistaken-so that the member states can adjust their capabilities accordingly, in order to inspect the incoming product.

Q546 Chair: So the Commission has no authority to swoop and see that these controls are taking place?

Joanna Darmanin: No.

Bernard Van Goethem: On the import of meat, if that is your specific question, there are only 10 third countries around the world that are allowed to export fresh meat to the European Union. That is a very restricted number of third countries, which are mainly North America, a couple of countries in South America, one or two in Africa, and then Australia and New Zealand. Those are the only third countries around the world that are allowed to ship fresh meat to the European Union. For all those exports, there is a specific export certificate, which is adopted at European level. This has been in place for decades, and we specify all the conditions that have to be certified by the veterinarian of the third country when meat is exported.

The first condition is that the third country is listed after an inspection by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), and the third country must fulfil a very high level in relation to animal health. We have to ensure that it is a country where there is no foot and mouth disease, for example; we know the disaster that can cause. There are a lot of diseases like that that have to be absent from the third country. The second requirement to be on the list to be able to export fresh meat is that the veterinary service must be up to standard. The veterinary service must have the capacity to control what is going on in the territory. The third condition is in relation to slaughterhouses. Those animals that will be exported to the European Union must be slaughtered in a slaughterhouse that has been approved by the third country and is also inspected by our inspectorate, which is located in Ireland.

The last component in relation to export of fresh meat is the fact that the third country must have a residue programme in place, which means that they have to check randomly all the various residues that might be present in the meat. They send us that annual testing programme, and we approve them, and unless they are approved they cannot export fresh meat to the European Union. When all those four conditions are fulfilled, the veterinary service in the third country in question can certify the meat, which is then shipped to the European Union, and which is controlled at the external border post of the European Union. We have around 250 to 300 of those border posts around the European Union-some here in the UK-where there is a compulsory identity check, physical check, and documentary check. Those are the three that have to be done on the import of meat. If the people at the border want to control more-if there are suspicions of fraud, or anything-then they can add laboratory tests, so they would take a sample of the consignment and make additional tests in a laboratory in the European Union. The meat, in that case, would only be released from the border post when those results are favourable. Those are very strict conditions.

Q547 Chair: You, the Commission, have satisfied yourselves that none of the horsemeat came from a third country?

Joanna Darmanin: No.

Bernard Van Goethem: We have not said that.

Chair: So you do not know.

Joanna Darmanin: From my available data, at EU level, we consume 55,000 tonnes of horsemeat, and imports from third countries represent 36,000 tonnes. There is trade in horsemeat.

Q548 Chair: For the purposes of our inquiry, we are trying to find out what the source of contamination was, so we would be very grateful if you could just reassure the Committee this afternoon that you are satisfied that the source of the contamination was not from a non-EU country. Are you in a position to say so?

Joanna Darmanin: I do not think, until full investigations are undertaken, that we can make such a commitment here. No, I think that would be a little bit premature.

Q549 Chair: When will the results of the full investigations be available?

Joanna Darmanin: As I said, I have no firm date. There will be a discussion, hopefully in the June agriculture council. It depends on the level, I suppose. Each member state has a different level of investigations that are ongoing, and I expect that the member states will give us some first indications of how their ongoing investigations are developing. We should have that indication around June. I believe the agriculture council is mid-June, so in a couple of weeks.

Q550 Barry Gardiner: The agriculture council, I take it, is the group of Ministers who have responsibility for promoting the meat industry in their countries, is it not?

Joanna Darmanin: It is also the Ministers who have the responsibility to ensure the safety of the food chain and consumer confidence in the food chain.

Q551 Barry Gardiner: Does that not strike you as being a conflict of interest for them?

Joanna Darmanin: I am afraid that it is the member states that have the competence for enforcement obligations under new legislations.

Q552 Barry Gardiner: But that was not my question, Ms Darmanin. My question was: does that not strike you as a conflict of interest that they have? On the one hand, they are the promoters of the industry, and on the other, they are charged with getting to the bottom of what might have gone on in the defrauding that took place.

Joanna Darmanin: Let me be clear: if you see the results of the recommendation for the testing, the Commission required a number of tests, ranging from 150 for the larger member states to 10 for the smaller member states. What we saw-and, in fact, I believe you have a copy-is that many member states did more tests than we had recommended. Germany, for example, did almost seven times as many tests as we had recommended, so I think the member states did take their responsibilities in this case very seriously.

Q553 Chair: I am so sorry. Could you just explain when the Commission requested those tests to take place?

Joanna Darmanin: Yes. We requested the tests by means of the recommendation that was adopted on 19 February.

Q554 Chair: Could I just put it to you that the contamination started in March or April last year, and ask what testing went on between March 2012 and February 2013?

Joanna Darmanin: Under the residue plans, the member states are supposed to give us their results on a systematic basis.

Q555 Chair: Did they?

Joanna Darmanin: We did have the results of 2011. Then, if I am not mistaken-it was in the papers we sent-we had four positive notifications. I have to look through the papers for the detail. 2011 were the latest figures that we had.

Q556 Barry Gardiner: Ms Darmanin, on what date did the Commission receive notification from the competent authorities in Ireland that there might be a risk of contamination of beef products with horse?

Joanna Darmanin: I believe it was the end of January-the third week of January.

Q557 Barry Gardiner: Let us be clear: you received no notification that in November, the FSA Ireland had begun to do specific DNA testing for horsemeat. You had no evidence of that. They did not communicate that to you at all.

Joanna Darmanin: I think they were controls taken at the national level, so they were under no obligation to inform us.

Barry Gardiner: I was just wanting to know whether they did or not.

Joanna Darmanin: No.

Q558 Barry Gardiner: They did not. On what date did the Commission receive notification from the competent authorities in Ireland of the evidence of contamination-so not just the risk, but the evidence of the contamination? Or was that one and the same?

Joanna Darmanin: The third week of January, the same one.

Q559 Barry Gardiner: So they did not tell you that they believed there was a risk. They waited until they had hard evidence of contamination from a sample they had taken before they revealed to you that they had either been doing this testing, or suspected that there might be a problem.

Joanna Darmanin: Yes. Just to underline that, it was not an issue of risk, however.

Q560 Barry Gardiner: I know you have set this out in your written evidence, but could you perhaps explain for the Committee the "one step back, one step forward" approach to traceability?

Joanna Darmanin: If you do not mind, I will ask Koen, who is our expert.

Koen Van Dyck: I think there is, within the food chain, a general obligation that a company receiving raw material should know where the raw material comes from and document that. They should then prepare the product, and when the product is sent to another, they have to know the destination. This is what we say, the step before and the step after. What happened in the case of the horsemeat scandal was that when the final product was found to be containing non­labelled horsemeat-so it was not a food safety risk, but it was a non­labelling issue-then it allowed a very short response, because the initial notification from the UK about the Findus company was clear from 8 February. On 11 February, the whole chain was identified through this traceability system we have. They started from the meat product, beef lasagne, then went to the company producing it, and then they could say, "We received the raw material from the French company, which received it from the Dutch company", and say who the Dutch company bought it from. This allowed the whole chain that this meat followed to be mapped.

Q561 Barry Gardiner: Absolutely. So why would it be that the authorities in Ireland have still been unable to take out a prosecution against the company that had supplied the alleged Polish contaminated beef, or horsemeat, into Ireland? Your very "one step forward, one step back" principle allows them to have identified who the supplier was. Indeed, the company itself must have known who the supplier was, and therefore would have been able to take out a civil prosecution for breach of contract, just as the Irish authorities would have been able to take out a prosecution for breach of the regulations. So why has that not happened?

Joanna Darmanin: If I may offer a possibility, there is one issue of traceability, which I think Koen has probably explained. Since this is fraud, it is not always clear in what part of that trade the contamination, or the fraud, actually took place. I would assume that, from the perspective of a member state, before a member state took out any particular enforcement actions against particular companies, they would have to be pretty sure.

Q562 Barry Gardiner: According to Article 3 of Commission Implementing Regulation EU number 931/2011, food business operators must ensure that the following information concerning consignments of food of animal origin is made available to the food business operator to whom the food is supplied: "an accurate description of the food." So we know that they did not comply with Article 3 at every point in the chain until you can prove where it actually came about, and if you cannot prove, it goes right the way back to the beginning.

Joanna Darmanin: My point was that-

Q563 Barry Gardiner: My point, with respect, is the one I wish you to address, and that is that there is a very clear instruction-indeed, it is in your own written evidence-under Article 3 that each food business must ensure this, and therefore each food business that failed to ensure it ought to have been subject to prosecution. Why have they not been?

Koen Van Dyck: I think this is then part of the investigation.

Q564 Barry Gardiner: There is no investigation necessary, Mr Van Dyck, is there? We know.

Koen Van Dyck: No, but we do not know exactly in which step of the chain something went wrong or fraud was committed, and that is part of the investigation by member states. If we go back to the initial case with the French company Spangero, which was the most documented, there are different steps in between, so the investigation is then to identify which food business operator made the fraud.

Q565 Barry Gardiner: No, I am sorry. You are misinterpreting your own regulation. Read very clearly what it says. According to Article 3, the food business operator must ensure that the following information is accurate. They did not do that. Even if they were not responsible for the fraud, they did not ensure that the information was accurate. That was a breach of the regulation. It is subject to a prosecution. Why has the prosecution not taken place? You are trying to focus it back on the fraud-the criminal activity. That is where you are making a mistake in interpretation of the regulation. Article 3 is quite clear. Why has it not been enforced?

Joanna Darmanin: If I may just say something, if we continue with the logic that you pursue in your question, what you seem to be saying is that therefore each and every actor in the food chain should simply be prosecuted for non­implementation of the regulation.

Barry Gardiner: Ms Darmanin, these are your regulations. They are not mine. They are your regulations in your written evidence, and that is what they say. If you disagree with them, change them. But they are the regulations; therefore, enforce them.

Joanna Darmanin: My only point was that I would assume that the various member states are trying to focus on finding who along the food chain specifically and knowingly committed fraud, in order to take action against them, which I believe is very much the line of questioning of this first set of questions.

Q566 Chair: It is a fairly basic point. If there is a regulation which says that food operators should provide accurate information, and they have failed in their duty to do so, why have they not been prosecuted by the Commission?

Joanna Darmanin: The Commission has no prosecuting powers.

Barry Gardiner: No, they do not have prosecuting powers.

Q567 Chair: So it would have to be by the member states. Why, in your view, do you think that they have not been prosecuted by the member states?

Joanna Darmanin: As I said, the member states are undertaking their investigations, and once they share that type of intelligence with us, then we will have to look at it and see. I believe that, from the enforcement point of view, the member states will be concentrating on who in particular fraudulently contaminated the food chain.

Q568 Barry Gardiner: Let us come on to the issue of fraud in a moment. Given the "one step back, one step forward" approach to traceability, why were the Dutch companies Willy Selten and Wiljo unable to identify their suppliers?

Koen Van Dyck: The two names you mentioned there were, according to the ongoing Dutch investigation, key persons in the fraud. It is clear that they do not want to reveal their suppliers, because they are the two players identified by the Dutch authorities as being key in the fraud.

Q569 Barry Gardiner: Mr Van Dyck, what you are telling the Committee, then, is that we have this system of rules in order to safeguard everybody, but if somebody chooses to commit a fraud, it does not work. It is no good at catching people out.

Joanna Darmanin: It is like general activity. I think that when the Commissioner went before the European Parliament, he was faced with similar questions. He said, "Listen, you have a police force, but if somebody slips through the net and wants to commit a crime, it happens". We know it happens. It is criminal activity. So it is not something you can avoid in the absolute. I think what you can try to do is guard, make sure there is follow­up, and make sure that our instruments are as tight as possible. This is why we tightened the control regulation to make sure that crime does not pay, because whether fraud could become part of an economic activity was one of the issues.

Q570 Barry Gardiner: Let me ask you about B&F Meats. This was a company referred to in Minister Coveney’s statement to the Irish Parliament, who had entered into an agreement with a Czech company to label horsemeat as beef. Minister Coveney suggested to the Irish Parliament that this was clearly not fraud, because both companies had agreed that they should label the horsemeat as beef. Now, first, do you consider that to be fraud-or, at least, conspiracy on the part of both companies to defraud-and secondly, do you believe that it complies with the regulations as you have set them out?

Joanna Darmanin: I am afraid that I have no specific knowledge of the particular statement by the Irish Minister, so I leave it for the Irish Minister to answer about what he has said.

Barry Gardiner: I can read it to you if you like.

Joanna Darmanin: It is not my role to comment on what Ministers of the member states say.

Barry Gardiner: Perhaps you could read it and write to us afterwards.

Joanna Darmanin: However, under the labelling legislation, if you are labelling something that does not reflect the true nature of the product and doing so intentionally, then yes, in our opinion, that is fraud, and I think that is the opinion of everybody in this room and outside it.

Barry Gardiner: Would you therefore take that up with Minister Coveney, who, as you have suggested, has both the obligation to promote the beef industry in Ireland and also to get to the bottom of the frauds that have taken place?

Q571 Neil Parish: I want to perhaps take you forward a little bit. This is about what we have learned about the traceability here, and what the outcomes are that are going to happen. There is no doubt that, on reflection, member states were not doing much testing. They did not know what was inside a processed product, especially, and that is something that I have always been very concerned about. We have probably gone from one extreme to another; we have probably gone from very little testing to a whole load of testing. How are we going to get back to a situation where it is much less likely for these frauds to happen, where enough tests are done, and where we actually know what is in our processed product, and where it has come from? It is one of my old chestnuts, as Bernard will know, but it is very much about knowing what is in these products. How are we going to get back to some sort of sanity in the world?

Joanna Darmanin: As I mentioned previously, there were three issues that we took up immediately as a response to what we had learned from the horsemeat scandal. One was to try to ensure that fraud does not pay, so to make sure that our sanctions and penalties offset any economic gain that operators may make from fraud.

The second issue is unannounced inspections: in other words, that you do not necessarily say to the business operator, "Oh, I am coming to inspect you in two months". Clearly, they can clean up the food chain if they are committing fraud, so that is the second possibility.

The third possibility relates to the fact that, as we witnessed in this instance, all the Commission could do was recommend to the member states. We had no legal basis to require the member states to take actions and to do the testing. As time proved, this was not a problem, because they did indeed take out a lot more tests than we actually required them to, but I think it is important also to fight fraud, and to show that if this were to happen again, there would be consequences. There is now a legal basis for the Commission to require them to test for DNA.

Q572 Neil Parish: One of the lessons to be learned here, surely, is that there was intelligence-in Ireland, in particular-that this was happening. I know it is a competence of the member state and you will say that it is not your competence, and I know we are jealous to keep our competencies and not allow you to have more, but in this instance of food safety and food traceability, is there not an argument that those countries that have suspicions about something going on should actually inform you? Horsemeat is trading all across Europe, therefore, if you keep it jealously in one member state, you have no chance of tracing it back through where it might have come from. Nobody was committing a fraud while that was horsemeat. It was only in the moment that it changed from horsemeat to beef, and was still actually horsemeat, that the fraud occurred. What are you doing to work with member states to get intelligence in the future?

Joanna Darmanin: I have to highlight-and this was something that the Commission was very concerned about in the beginning-that this was not a risk, because the consequences would have been much worse for the internal market. From that point of view, we were lucky, in that there was no risk that came up. Our rapid alert system, for example, is set up for risk, so we do not have a means to denote fraud. I think this is something that we have to pick up, to ensure that member states systematically are able also to report food fraud in RAFSS.

What we did learn, and something that, I suppose, we all recognise now, is that we are always the wiser with hindsight. If you have one member state who says, "Oh, I have a trace of this here", a lot of things might have happened. You can have cross­contamination in certain cases of trucks which transport boxes. We were all a little bit taken by surprise at the extent of this potential problem, and this is why we acted quickly and at EU level, with the co­operation of the member states and food business operators, because at the end of the day it is them who suffer the consequences of this; a few are committing fraud, and the whole of the sector has a consequence to deal with. In that case, the fact that there was a measure taken at EU level with the agreement of all member states helped us to calm down the situation, and allow the member states to carry on with their investigations to find the source.

Dan Rogerson: There are regulations in place to ensure that all cattle can be traced. The Commission is proposing that we have electronic tagging of cattle. My first three areas of questioning are: how do you think that this will work in practice; at what stage, and by whom, will the animals be tagged; and who will maintain the register for each country?

Bernard Van Goethem: We have a system now with the double ear tag. That is a system that is applicable throughout the European Union, with a central database in every member state. We are in a situation where we made electronic identification compulsory for sheep last year, and there are more and more incentives on the side of the member states to also do it for bovine, despite the fact that in addition to the double ear tag there is also what we know as the cattle passport. So what we have proposed to the Council-and it is now in discussion between the two institutions, the Council and Parliament-is what we call the voluntary electronic identification of bovine. This would be a step forward which would allow the member states to pass to electronic identification, if they wish. It is already the case in some member states. There are some member states where, in addition to the two ear tags, they have put in electronic identification. We want to legalise that at European level, so allowing the member states to pass to electronic identification, if they wish.

Q573 Dan Rogerson: It is optional. You are not proposing that it be mandatory?

Bernard Van Goethem: No, it is an option. It will be an option, but it will also be an option for the farmers. The farmers will be able to get rid of the double ear tag and replace them with another identification, an electronic ear tag. As I said, there are discussions between the Council and the Parliament about how to finalise the regulations. We are at the end of the discussions, so the trialogue took place last week. There are some member states that would like to have a certain delay before it is implemented, because, apparently, there will be some problems with the managing of the databases. Is that what you are referring to?

Dan Rogerson: Yes.

Bernard Van Goethem: The idea being, of course, that there is one database for each member state. This would allow them to trace back the animal, as they are now traced back with the two ear tag and the passport. Anyway, it would be compulsory when there are intra­Community trade agreements. A bovine that leaves a member state where it is not compulsory and goes to another member state would have to be electronically identified.

Q574 Dan Rogerson: So in answer to my question of at what stage, and by whom, it would be the responsibility of the farmer to make sure that this happens?

Bernard Van Goethem: In each member state, there is a procedure to be followed-under the control of the competent authority-to make sure that when an animal is identified, it is really identified. There is not only the fact that you electronically identify the animal itself; you also check year after year that the animals that are in the database are also the cattle that are effectively in the field of a specific farm.

Dan Rogerson: There is quite a deal of flexibility in what you are describing there, for each member state to bring in that system.

Bernard Van Goethem: There is flexibility, indeed, in the member states in relation to the electronic tagging, but not in relation to the two ear tags. The two ear tags have to be there.

Q575 Dan Rogerson: As for who will be responsible for that within each country, you are again allowing each member state to decide?

Bernard Van Goethem: I do not know the details, to be honest. I can give written evidence later, but it is under the control of the competent authority. It is dependent on one member state or the other member state.

Q576 Dan Rogerson: You said these negotiations are reaching an end, so you could let us know what the conclusions are of those discussions.

Bernard Van Goethem: The discussions are now about the transitional period. One of the main issues is the transitional period: how much time will be needed for it effectively to be implemented, between the actual system and the future system? I repeat, this does not preclude the fact that member states could introduce it now.

Dan Rogerson: They have the option.

Bernard Van Goethem: It is not forbidden to do it. What has to be done is the two ear tags.

Q577 Dan Rogerson: Ultimately you foresee a point where we could dispense with the ear tags, once the electronic system is in, but until then we will have to have both.

Bernard Van Goethem: Yes, but always to ensure the traceability, from birth to the slaughterhouse.

Q578 Dan Rogerson: It is proposed to remove provisions for voluntary beef labelling. Are you confident-bearing in mind the discussions we have been having-that the removal of voluntary beef labelling will not reduce food safety or traceability? How can you be confident that that is the case?

Bernard Van Goethem: What the Commission is proposing has been recognised by a lot of member states as too much of an administrative burden. In particular, the UK Government is quite keen on highlighting the administrative burden, so we have been going in that direction. The requirements that were laid on them were a long and detailed procedure, to allow what we call voluntary beef labelling. It is not place of birth, place of rearing or place of slaughterhouse, which is compulsory. It is additional things: "Hereford beef, raised in the mountains", or something like that.

Dan Rogerson: We do not always agree with everything our Government argues for.

Bernard Van Goethem: It is not replaced by new legislation. It will fall under the resulting voluntary labelling.

Chair: If we are going to accommodate your leaving at 4.30, we are going to really have to crack on with shorter answers; otherwise we are going to have to keep you for longer.

Q579 Ms Ritchie: I move on to the new legislation that will require meat products with added proteins to declare this, and I refer to the legislation that will come into effect from 13 December 2014. How will this legislation assist consumers of processed meat products?

Joanna Darmanin: Even currently, if you add proteins, you have to say so if it is a meat product. You have to declare it on the label. The new legislation, as part of the implementing and necessary follow­up mechanisms, will introduce the issue of origin for fresh meat of goats, sheep, poultry, and swine.

Q580 Ms Ritchie: Will this legislation also require a declaration of the quantity of added proteins from a different source?

Joanna Darmanin: I think it is quantity as well. If you have a percentage of a different protein, it has to say, "So much percentage of this particular protein".

Q581 Ms Ritchie: Would it be possible for you to provide us with written details of that?

Joanna Darmanin: Yes.

Q582 Ms Ritchie: Will the legislation apply to loose meat, and by that we mean, for example, minced beef sold by a butcher?

Joanna Darmanin: For issues like minced meat and ingredients, that is the issue where the Commission promised to come forward earlier in the autumn to examine the issue of whether to extend origin labelling to the ingredients. We expect that report to come out in the autumn, in September or October, in order to then assess the next steps of whether we go ahead and propose legislation for origin labelling of meat products as ingredients.

Q583 Neil Parish: I want to carry on the questions about what you, as the Commission, can do to improve food safety and to deter fraud. You have made it absolutely clear that it is up to member states to take these cases where fraud has been committed, and I think you said earlier on that it must be commensurate with the crime. I mean, if you have made €1 million by a fraud and then you get fined €10,000 and told to be a good boy or girl, you are going to carry on doing it. What can you do, as the Commission, to make sure that individual member states are actually bringing strong enough penalties against those who are defrauding the system?

Joanna Darmanin: It is part of our proposal. As you know, the Commission proposes it, and now we are in the hands of the European Parliament and the member states in the Council. My sense is that, after we have seen what happened in this case, the member states and the Parliament will be more on our side. They will be reluctant to try to water down those provisions, so they will want to have an EU legal basis that would allow them to level hefty penalties for food fraud.

Q584 Neil Parish: And you will be expecting member states to actually tell you what those penalties are?

Joanna Darmanin: On the information from the member states, that is something that we see across all EU fields, not only for SANCO (Health and Consumers) issues where the information-if sent to us-comes very late. They always say, "It is not required by the legislation to report on issues of sanctions, et cetera". We had a report, for example, on animal welfare and animal welfare sanctions, where we had to specifically ask the member states to give us information, and we saw that there was a whole range, from a €200 fine to 10-year imprisonment for animal welfare breaches. Then again, you are in the hands of the information coming from the member states.

Q585 Ms Ritchie: How do you monitor compliance with food safety and labelling regulations across different EU member states?

Joanna Darmanin: Basically, the FVO conducts a number of inspections. There is an annual plan of the FVO, which is agreed a couple of months in advance of an incoming year to see which particular sector requires a closer look. The FVO does its inspections: for example, in the case of horsemeat, it happens that there was an ongoing hygiene inspection in five of the largest horse­producing member states. The report of the FVO on that is now published, I believe, and has been discussed with the member states. The issue is that after an FVO inspection, a report is drawn up, which is publicly available on the website within a couple of weeks, and where necessary the Commission takes out recommendations and asks the member states to tackle this, this, this and this. There is a process that we then enter into with the member states to ensure that any deficiencies that we find in the FVO inspections are dealt with in a timely manner.

Q586 Ms Ritchie: What changes, if any, would you now make to your practice?

Joanna Darmanin: I believe that we will factor in the issue of food fraud. That is something that we will have to check in upcoming inspections. We have focused, and our legislation heavily focuses, on risk. Risk is about safety of the food chain. This has taught us that we also need to be looking at consumer confidence, and that includes ensuring that food business operators are checking where their material is sourced and that it is what it says it is.

Q587 Dan Rogerson: You referred briefly, earlier on, to the issue of bute entering the food chain. Do you know how 19 samples with traces of bute were able to enter the food system, and from which countries did these 19 samples originate?

Joanna Darmanin: If you read the report, it is not necessarily that they entered the food chain. If they were detected as a result of this test, they would have had to be withdrawn, which I assume that they were. If I recollect my figures, there was one from Ireland and 14 from the United Kingdom.

Chair: It may be easier for you to write to us.

Joanna Darmanin: There was the Czech Republic, and one from Ireland.

Chair: Will you give us the details?

Dan Rogerson: That is fine. It just gives a picture.

Joanna Darmanin: There were 14 in the UK.

Q588 Dan Rogerson: What steps have these countries taken now to prevent a recurrence of this happening?

Joanna Darmanin: We already have in place certain requirements with respect to how horses go into the food chain. It is clear that one of the key areas where we have to take another look-and where we have announced that we will be taking another look in the action plan that the Commission sent to the member states on 22 March-is, for example, the horse passporting system. For example, you have a situation where you have a central database. In the UK, you currently have a number of databases, so the passports exist but they go into a lot of different databases. The idea would be to have a central database in each of the member states, so that they can cross­check to make sure that there is not one horse with two passports and they are switching them.

Q589 Dan Rogerson: This is a proposal that you are making?

Joanna Darmanin: This is a proposal that the Commission said it would take up, and it will come into legislation in September, I believe, with the zootechnical legislation.

Q590 Dan Rogerson: That is around the passporting. Do you think there is also a need to look at the regulations controlling veterinary residues in meat destined for human consumption? We heard earlier that the horsemeat may well have been legally slaughtered. It was only when it became labelled as beef that we had a problem, so there is a separate issue now of horsemeat containing veterinary residues entering the food chain.

Joanna Darmanin: There are two things. First, if a horse is treated with bute at any part of its life, it is automatically excluded, and then you have areas where there needs to be a six­month starvation period. That is something that we are also discussing with the member states, in terms of implementation of the existing horse legislation, because we have had legislation enter into force in 2008 which already sets out a number of requirements. For example, the next step would be to ensure that we have a centralised database.

Q591 Dan Rogerson: So your first focus is to make sure that the existing regulations are enforced properly. You do not, at the moment, anticipate any new provisions?

Joanna Darmanin: Yes, but also to improve where we have found gaps, like the central database.

Q592 Neil Parish: Going to the movement of horses, I am intrigued that you are going for electronic tagging of cattle, yet this was horsemeat we were trying to trace. Why are you not going for electronic tagging of horses? It is a serious question.

Bernard Van Goethem: With due respect, it has already been in place for three years.

Joanna Darmanin: Since 2009.

Bernard Van Goethem: So there is compulsory electronic tagging of newborn horses with microchips since 2010. Of course, it is not compulsory for older animals.

Q593 Neil Parish: Is this across all member states?

Bernard Van Goethem: Yes, absolutely, including here.

Joanna Darmanin: Since 2009.

Q594 Neil Parish: So you expect them all to be microchipped in the future, then, do you?

Joanna Darmanin: Yes.

Bernard Van Goethem: There are supposed to be, and I am sure that the competent authorities in the UK are checking that very regularly. But that is indeed the case, yes.

Q595 Neil Parish: How confident are you that you know what horses are moving through the EU, and where they have come from? How confident are you in the movement of horsemeat?

Bernard Van Goethem: I think there are two different issues here. The idea of the passport of horses, which is something that has existed for 10 years, was to link the animals with a piece of paper so that it can be identified. Also, from a technical point of view, to link the animal health situation of the horse, so that racehorses-mainly from the countries which are signatories to the Tripartite Agreement-could move freely without having to go to a vet each time they were moved abroad. The third part was public health, so the residue of veterinary medicine. The passport was linked with the individual horse.

Now, of course, as Ms Darmanin said, the lessons learned from that are that we want to use the passport to know where the horses have been, where they are going, and where they will be slaughtered. We are adding a fourth dimension to the passport, which is a centralised database, so that the member states will be able to follow the horses and check the horses until the slaughterhouse to avoid the fraud that is ongoing, not only in the UK, but also in other member states.

Chair: Could you be briefer?

Bernard Van Goethem: Yes, but I think it is important.

Q596 Neil Parish: I do want an answer to this. Will you expect-and I am not necessarily arguing with you-Britain to have a centralised database? We do not at the moment.

Bernard Van Goethem: That is indeed our intention in the action plan, which has been forwarded to all the Ministers by our Commissioner. We have ongoing discussions to see how that can be put in practice. It also will not be done from one day to another. Let me highlight that fraudulent activity from the owner-and from the vet, if I can say-is something that is common in the UK, as far as I understand, because then you have two passports for one horse. There is one for competition and one for slaughter. The passport is an ideal system, if everybody would adhere to it, but if I understand what is going on in practice, each and every individual is tempted to cheat a little bit. When everybody cheats a little bit, then the system is not working anymore, and that is the situation we are in.

Neil Parish: We can ask our Minister about how we are going to get it.

Chair: We just want to confirm that it is all horses.

Bernard Van Goethem: Yes, all horses.

Dan Rogerson: All horses destined for the food chain.

Bernard Van Goethem: All horses, independently of whether they go into the food chain or not.

Joanna Darmanin: Food and non­food.

Q597 Chair: Can I please refer you to your overview report on the audits carried out in member states in 2011 and 2012 by the Food and Veterinary Office. Five audits were carried out in the most significant member states: Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, and Spain. You concluded that in at least one member state, this demonstrated the lack of reliability in the system of that member state. You went on to say that due to missing information, lack of updates and an absence of plausibility tests, the data evaluated meant that the member state visited could not be considered to be reliable. The question we would like to put to you this afternoon is, if that was the case, why safeguard measures were not threatened against those member states, as they were in the United Kingdom in the case of desinewed meat? Why did you decide not to threaten or impose safeguard measures?

Joanna Darmanin: Can you refer me to the specific section of the report? I have a copy of the report.

Q598 Chair: It is in your written evidence, under the FVO, part three, "Action Taken at EU Level." You say that there are overview reports. All of these reports into Italy, France, Poland, Belgium and Spain-available on the Commission website-identified shortcomings of varying seriousness, including traceability of horses, records of veterinary drug use, and past horse food information. That was one. Then, in the overview report on the audits carried out, you concluded what I just said. The question the Committee would like to ask is why it was decided not to impose safeguard measures in those cases.

Joanna Darmanin: What would typically happen with the FVO report is that we would write out a number of recommendations to the member states, and give them the chance to respond by taking action. If that fails, we take out infringements.

Chair: You did not do that with the United Kingdom and desinewed meat. You went straight to a unilateral ban.

Joanna Darmanin: I believe there were a number of contacts with the member states on mechanically separated meat.

Q599 Chair: We will come onto that, but there was a visit from the FVO in March 2012, and there was an immediate ban imposed. The Committee would just be very interested to know why safeguard measures and a ban were not imposed there, and also how-following from Mr Rogerson’s questions-the Commission can insist that horsemeat contamination posed no risk to human health, when it came from unknown sources.

Joanna Darmanin: I believe, in the case of mechanically separated meat, there is legislation in place that relates very much to risk and to health issues, whereas in the case of the controls of horses, there was no health risk identified. The Commission will still pursue the specific member states if they do not correct the actions that we have highlighted in the FVO report.

Q600 Chair: We will come on to that in a moment. Following on from the questions from Mr Parish and Mr Rogerson, and the thrust of this afternoon, what do you, in the Commission, believe the impact of this contamination crisis on member states’ processed meat sectors has been? What we have seen in the fresh meat sector is that sales have increased, but what do you think the impact has been on the processed meat sector?

Joanna Darmanin: This is a question that we have asked, and we do not have any precise figures, but indeed-following on, and very much in agreement with what you said-what we have witnessed and what we have been told is that, clearly, the ready­made meals have indeed suffered. That is where they felt it most. However, for example, if you take fresh meats from butchers, it seems that prices have gone up. Indeed, let us say they were the winners in this situation, if you can use the term "winners" in a situation of this manner.

Q601 Mrs Glindon: What steps should member states now take to restore confidence to the processed meat sector?

Joanna Darmanin: I believe that the member states should continue testing for DNA. They should assist the Commission and the European Parliament to have the legislation that we have put on the table rapidly in place. There is also the action plan, which the Commission tabled on 22 March, where, for example, we have started a discussion with the member states on a single database for horse passports. I believe that if we show we are serious about tackling the issue of consumer confidence, the sanctions will be a key area where we hope to continue to have the support of the member states.

Q602 Chair: Thank you very much indeed. You just said there that normally, when the FVO visits, the member state is given time to respond. The United Kingdom was not given time to respond under the desinewed meat regulations, although other member states that were being investigated were. What is the current situation as regards the investigations against other member states?

Joanna Darmanin: My information was that investigations were also carried out in other member states, but they did not result in anything particular. I leave the mechanically separated meat in Bernard’s hands, because he has been following this issue also with this Committee.

Bernard Van Goethem: It is indeed an issue here in the UK. Let us be clear: mechanically separated meat from a ruminant is not allowed.

Q603 Chair: I am sorry. My specific question, if you would be good enough, was about what the status is of the investigations against the other member states.

Bernard Van Goethem: The FVO, as you mentioned earlier, has gone to a lot of different member states, and has also checked the investigations that were done, including by UK meat retailers. The FVO has not found any member states where mechanically separated meat was obtained from ruminant bones. As I said earlier, it is something that is not allowed and has been strictly banned following the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis nearly 10 years ago now, and making such products from bones recovered from ruminants is, and was, strictly prohibited through EU regulations linked with the BSE crisis. Those types of product are not allowed to be produced or traded within the European Union. The only place where it was found-as you mentioned, Ms Chair-was in the UK. You mentioned earlier that following this discovery, a letter was sent to the UK authority, asking them to produce an action plan.

Q604 Chair: That is very helpful. We are aware of that. Could you just help the Committee by explaining to us the difference between desinewed meat and Baader meat?

Bernard Van Goethem: Those two terms-desinewed meat and Baader meat-do not exist in Community legislation. You have meat, meat preparations, mincemeat, and mechanically separated meat. Baader meat and desinewed meat are considered low­pressure and high­pressure, but are considered as mechanically separated meat. It cannot be done from ruminant bone. If it is done, it can only be done from pig bones or poultry bones, and it has to be labelled as such when it is exported or when it is introduced in a product. Our legislation is very clear on that, and that is why we proceeded like that one year ago.

Q605 Chair: Okay. When we initially inquired into this subject of desinewed meat, the Agriculture Minister at the time suggested in his evidence that it was inevitable that mislabelled or unlawful meat products-horsemeat being passed off as beef-would be imported into the UK to replace UK­produced desinewed meat. Do you accept such a link at the Commission?

Joanna Darmanin: I think that the point that Bernard was making is that mechanically separated meat from bovine sources is simply not allowed under EU legislation, so I do not think it is a question of saying, "Let’s replace it with imported meat", or, "Let’s label it as mechanically separated meat". It is simply not allowed.

Q606 Chair: Sorry, I think we took the hit. We accepted that. We would like to think the moratorium might be lifted, but what we are suggesting is that it was put to us that because that cheap source of meat was banned, it would lead to mislabelling and contamination, which we have subsequently seen. You do not see any correlation between the two?

Joanna Darmanin: I am not an expert on mechanically separated meat, but what we saw with the horsemeat is not that the UK is the sole and primary source of the fraud that took place. I do not think it is in question, whereas what we witnessed is that mechanically separated meat from bovine was only in the United Kingdom and in no other member states.

Q607 Chair: We accept that. I am trying to move the argument on. It is now banned, yes?

Bernard Van Goethem: No, it has been banned-

Chair: It has been banned for the moment. There is a temporary ban.

Bernard Van Goethem: No, it is not temporary. It is banned.

Chair: The evidence that was put to us was that this would lead to mislabelling and to passing­off and contamination, which we have seen, and which we were told by our own Food Standards Agency has been happening since March last year. I am just inviting you to suggest that you could see a correlation there as well. The thought never crossed your mind.

Bernard Van Goethem: For us, there is no link between those. The only evidence we have of use of what you call desinewed meat was here in the UK, in one specific establishment. It has never been seen anywhere else, despite all the investigation that we have asked the member states to do, and that the FVO has done in visiting five member states. We have written to all the member states in which rumours did exist that it could have happened, indirectly through what was here in the UK. This was not the case. The fraudulent activity in relation to horsemeat has not started because what you call desinewed meat was banned from here, because it has been banned in Europe for more than 10 years. There was only one fraudulent activity, which was here in the UK, in relation to mechanically separated meat.

Q608 Ms Ritchie: You refer to member states that have been visited by the EU. What are those member states?

Bernard Van Goethem: They are the ones that the Chair mentioned earlier. They are the big producers of mincemeat: the UK, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Poland. The Chair did mention those, so those are the member states where there is more production of mincemeat, or mechanically separated meat. Those are two legally existing definitions.

Q609 Chair: If I am a butcher in Holland, and I strip the meat off a pig and make it into mincemeat, I am allowed to sell that into the UK?

Joanna Darmanin: If it is from a pig, yes.

Q610 Chair: So it is just the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) regulations that prevent it?

Bernard Van Goethem: The BSE and TSE regulations prevent producing mechanically separated meat from ruminant bones: sheep, goats, or bovine. That is strictly forbidden, due to the risk linked with the BSE agent, which is in the bone. When you crush the bone, obviously, you can widely spread the agent of Creutzfeldt­Jakob, which is in the bone. That is why the Parliament and the Council, very correctly, absolutely prohibit mechanically separated meat from ruminant bones. You can call it desinewed meat or Baader meat, or whatever, but as long as you crush the bones, you are really putting public health at risk. That is why we took such action one year ago.

Q611 Chair: What you are saying is that is for ruminants, for beef, but for non­ruminants like pigs and lamb, we can use mechanically separated meat.

Bernard Van Goethem: No, not lamb. Not ruminant.

Chair: I was just checking.

Bernard Van Goethem: For pigs and poultry, you can do mechanically separated meat. You can crush the bones as much as you want. You can sell it all over Europe, as long as you label it as mechanically separated meat.

Q612 Chair: So you think we were the only country that was using mincemeat in processed foods-possibly sausages-as a cheap filler. You are saying that no other member state did that?

Bernard Van Goethem: I am not saying that. I said that the only evidence that we have, despite a lot of inquiry-in person, and indirectly through the member states-that mechanically separated meat was done with ruminant bones was here in the UK, in one specific factory. That is all I am saying.

Q613 Neil Parish: I just want to be absolutely clear that anybody who wants to take desinewed meat from poultry or pigs in the UK is able to do so.

Bernard Van Goethem: Yes, as always, since 10 years ago, but it has to be called mechanically separated meat. You put on the poultry sausage "80% mechanically separated meat of poultry". There is absolutely no problem. You could do it eight years ago, last year, or next year.

Q614 Neil Parish: You are absolutely convinced, then, that across the whole of Europe, people are labelling that on every sausage product and processed product that has got mechanically separated meat. You are confident of that, are you?

Bernard Van Goethem: What I say is that the FVO has been on the spot. The only public health issue that was identified is the one that we have been talking about for five minutes, but there were also issues of mislabelling on those products, for which the member states have received the same warning as the one that was put forward to the UK one year ago. The only product that was definitively produced illegally, with a risk for public health, was the one the Chair was referring to earlier.

Q615 Neil Parish: So if they label the product as having Baader meat in it, then, which is the same as desinewed meat, is that legal across the EU?

Bernard Van Goethem: As I said, Baader meat and desinewed meat are not legal terms in terms of meat in the European Union. It is mincemeat, or it is mechanically separated meat. You can differentiate low pressure or high pressure, but it is mechanically separated meat.

Q616 Chair: So if we tour our supermarkets in our summer holidays in Belgium, Holland, or Denmark-wherever we choose to go-we will see MSM meat labelled on continental sausages?

Bernard Van Goethem: The level of mechanically separated meat does not count in the level of meat. The theory would be that you could have a sausage with 100% mechanically separated meat, but the label would say "Meat: 0%". The value of mechanically separated meat cannot count in the value of meat, but it would still be 100% mechanically separated meat. This would only be for poultry or pigs, certainly not for ruminants, which is definitively banned from the European Union for obvious reasons.1

Q617 Chair: In what you have learned so far, what were the greatest incidents of horsemeat contamination? Which member states suffered the highest levels?

Joanna Darmanin: It is difficult to tell from the table. If you look at the bute, I already gave you the figures. To say where the biggest incidents occurred is a little bit difficult off the top of my head now, because, number one, it depends on the extent to which the sector provides for the specific member states. If you have a very large sector, then it is likely that your results are going to be much higher. The way in which it falls between the pre­packed and the non­pre­packed sector is also significant, so I think it would be difficult for me to say, "I think the biggest culprit is X member state."

Bernard Van Goethem: If I can add, I think the report will be distributed to you. You have asked, and you may have a copy. It is important to realise that in some member states, when one batch was contaminated, the inquiry has gone on, and they have gone into the separation of the batch and you will have some member states that find a lot of DNA in the same batch. It is not because the results are high that the contamination was high. It is also the way the inquiry has gone on and the targeted sampling that has been done. If there were suspicions of fraud, I think it was the duty of the service to concentrate on those things that were more likely to be fraudulent, and therefore they would have a high percentage of DNA whilst the rest of the market is free. If you do not know how those results entered the table, it is very difficult to say if the results in one member state were more damaging than in others.

Q618 Mrs Glindon: With the gap in the market where there is no longer any desinewed meat from this country, does all the filler that is now produced come from member states that are fully integrated into Europe and that are fully regulated by the European Union?

Joanna Darmanin: As Bernard said, they are covered by the EU internal market rules, and there have been a number of FVO inspections to follow up on leads that we had heard in the beginning. They did not result in the fact that you had mechanically separated meat from ruminants.

Q619 Mrs Glindon: So there are sufficient supplies of mechanically separated meat that would make up for the desinewed meat that was lost, or, rather, that can no longer be produced within Europe?

Joanna Darmanin: I would be the last one to try to give any figure on that, but what normally happens, as happens in any sector, is that if there is a withdrawal of a particular product, then others will fill it up. Now, whether it is mechanically separated meat from pigs and poultry or other types of cuts or preparations, I would not have those figures.

Chair: If you had them, you could write to us, just for our interest. That would be helpful.

Joanna Darmanin: Yes.

Q620 Mrs Glindon: Now that the ban has been lifted on examining British bovine meat by the inspectors for mad cow disease, will that not make any difference about using the bones? Do you have more confidence in this country, now the ban has been lifted?

Joanna Darmanin: In terms of the EU market, there is no ban. I know there are bans by certain third countries. I believe Japan has just announced that it will lift its ban, which is good news, because it is something that we have pursued very vigorously. It is also an offensive point that we have raised with the United States in the context of the EU-US Free Trade Agreement, and we have seen some moves; there may be more to come, hopefully. We do take it up systematically with third-country partners and we will continue to keep up the pressure. You can be sure of that.

Q621 Mrs Glindon: Sorry, Chair, I should have said, "Now that the requirement to examine for mad cow in the spine has been lifted by the EU".

Joanna Darmanin: As far as I know, there is still a requirement to test. What we have done, as far as I recollect, is that the age at which you have to take the test has been raised to make it more flexible. It is more risk­based. I cannot remember how old the cow has to be, but we lifted it so that there would be fewer tests and more concentration on the risk, which I believe is the older cows, correct?

Bernard Van Goethem: Yes, the older cows.

Joanna Darmanin: So more on the older and less on the younger.

Neil Parish: It is 42 months, I think.

Joanna Darmanin: I believe that is right.

Koen Van Dyck: To add something on the testing, I think that healthy slaughtered cattle do not have to be tested any more. We focus now on the risk animals, which are fallen stock: I would say cattle that fall dead on the farm, or that arrive in the slaughterhouse with some symptoms, should be tested, but for healthy slaughtered animals, they have stopped testing in 25 member states, including the UK.

Bernard Van Goethem: But the risk materials remain as they were, including the bones.

Chair: Thank you. We understand.

Q622 Ms Ritchie: A final question: I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland, where the ban is in operation. Obviously, we have a land border with the Republic of Ireland, and a different set of circumstances pertain there. What can the EU do to restore confidence in the processed meat industry in the UK, with particular relevance to Northern Ireland?

Joanna Darmanin: Which ban are you referring to?

Ms Ritchie: Desinewed.

Q623 Chair: If I can add a rider to that, we understood that the temporary ban was dependent on a final decision as to whether there were any health risks or not. When are we expecting that final study to be available?

Bernard Van Goethem: As I said, the ban has existed for at least 10 years throughout the European Union. There was a clear breach of that ban here in the UK, but we have said that we will continuously ask the European Food Safety Authority to see if any risk remains. I remind you that the risk was linked with BSE, Creutzfeldt­Jakob, and scratching the bone of ruminants. There is a continuous request from our side.

Q624 Chair: There is a debate going on, and we were told in October last year that the study was meant to conclude. The British Government and the British producers argued that the bone is left intact. I have seen the bone immediately after the meat has been stripped off it. The bone is intact. Why was there a delay in this moratorium being reviewed, which has led to this broader problem-particularly in Northern Ireland-and where we lost jobs in two particular constituencies?

Koen Van Dyck: The report you refer to is the question that the Commission posed to the European Food Safety Authority on the safety of mechanically separated meat. There were three parts to this question. The first part was to compare the risk of mechanically separated meats, compared with regular meat, mincemeat, and meat products. We speak about mechanically separated meat from non­ruminants, so we speak about the risk linked to MSM from pigs and poultry. Because we had a discussion with member states, including the UK, who said that this low­pressure MSM is very comparable to mincemeat-the second question we asked EFSA was, "Can you give some criteria to differentiate low­pressure poultry and pig MSM from mincemeat?" The third question we asked was "If you have criteria to differentiate between mincemeat, on the one hand, and low­pressure MSM on the other, where should we put the barrier between mincemeat, with less destruction, and mechanically separated meat?" We received the opinion and the report has been published.

Q625 Chair: When?

Koen Van Dyck: It was published at the end of March, and it is available on the website of the European Food Safety Authority. The main conclusions of the report, which I can highlight, were that mechanically separated meat, when produced according to the normal rules that exist, is not a safety issue. It means that it is a safe product that you can eat. When it follows the rules that are laid down in the regulations, there is not a food safety issue-again, when you speak about poultry and pigs. However, it is not possible to define criteria to separate low­pressure MSM from mincemeat, for example. We are now in the process, as already announced before, of scrutinising this EFSA advice, and then we will see what will be the next step and whether we have to lay down additional rules, or what has to be done relating to mechanically separated meat. This report is available for the public.

Chair: We thank you so much for being so generous with your time. We have gone two minutes over, but we hope that you will have a safe journey back to Brussels, and that we might have the pleasure of your evidence another time. We are very grateful to you for participating in this present inquiry. Thank you very much indeed.

Joanna Darmanin: Thank you, and thank you to all of you.


[1] Further to this line of questioning, the Committee requested clarification on a number of points. The response was: The BSE agent is found in the nervous system. However certain elements of the nervous system as ganglia are closely associated to certain types of bones (vertebral column in particular). The use of such bones presents therefore a BSE risk and hence the prohibition based on BSE grounds.

[1] In view of the potential risk of inadequate separation and confusion between the different types of bones during the deboning process, all ruminant bones have been excluded for the production of MSM by the co-legislators i.e. the European Parliament and the Council.

[1] The use of ruminant bones for the production of mechanically separated meat is prohibited according Regulation (EC) N° 999/2001. No derogation is given for the production of low pressure MSM.

Prepared 15th July 2013