Members of the European Parliament have demanded severe punishments for food manufacturers found guilty of mislabelling horsemeat as beef.

During a heated debate in Brussels with representatives of the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) German Christian Democrat MEP Renate Sommer said: “We need tough penalties. It needs to be expensive to do stuff like this and the name of the companies should be published,” she added.

While some MEPs believed EU governments should conduct better checks to prevent the scandal being repeated, most agreed punishments against food companies breaching EU labelling laws are too weak. “The responsibility must rest with the food manufacturers,” said UK Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies. “They are the ones that buy the meat, they put the label on the food, they are responsible for the labelling of the ingredients,” he explained.

Linda McAvan, an MEP for the UK Labour Party, asked the Commission for legislation ensuring food manufacturers pay for additional regulatory costs, such as the DNA and phenylbutazone tests Brussels wants member states to undertake to mitigate the damage of the horsemeat labelling scandal.

However, Paola Testori Coggi, director general of the European Commission’s health and consumer affairs directorate general, claimed EU labelling laws gave member states the authority to increase punishments for such offences, if they wished.