EU commissioner Borg at presentation of proposals in Brussels

EU commissioner Borg at presentation of proposals in Brussels

EU food safety laws are facing reform under new proposals from the European Commission, which wants to "simplify and strengthen" controls in the wake of the horsemeat contamination saga.

The Commission wants to streamline EU food safety controls, which are authorised by almost 70 laws. It has proposed slashing this to five pieces of legislation. Health commissioner Tonio Borg yesterday (6 May) claimed this would reduce red tape for food businesses. If they are approved by EU ministers and MEPs, the Commissioner estimated the measures would be in force by 2016.

Borg also set out plans that would ensure member states imposed "dissuasive and appropriate" penalties against food fraud. These would be large enough to wipe out any notional illicit profit made by a food fraudster. Borg said the measures would protect food sales. "Public confidence is a fragile concept which can evaporate easily. That is why there's no room for complacency."

Speaking in Brussels, the commissioner said although Europe has the highest food safety standards in the world, the recent horsemeat scandal had shown there is plenty of room for improvement. Thousands of products were recalled after it emerged lines from burgers to lasagne containing unlabelled horsemeat were on sale. The scandal - as yet - was an issue of contamination rather than safety.

To try to remove as many affected products as possible from sale, the Commission paid for 8,000 horsemeat DNA tests. However, under the proposals, the EU executive body would have power to oblige – not recommend – that member countries undertake such testing.

Furthermore, the proposals would insist future spot checks of food manufacturers and producers would be unannounced, Borg added.