EU food chain must act to increase traceability

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14 February 2013 in Campaigns
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OneKind is supporting a call by Eurogroup for Animals to improve the traceability of meat and meat products, in the interests of animal welfare.

Cow in field

In a statement today, the influential European welfare group, of which OneKind is a member, says it is extremely alarmed by the current situation regarding the discovery of horsemeat in food products purporting to be made with beef, and the implications for animal welfare.

The discovery raises major concerns for both consumer safety and animal welfare as the lack of transparency within the food processing sector from farmers to supermarkets prevents us from knowing where the animals involved were raised, transported and slaughtered. We therefore cannot guarantee their welfare and ensure that they have been respected and treated as sentient beings. 

Food producers and European legislators must take their responsibilities seriously and act to ensure that all animals destined for the food chain are treated with respect, their welfare protected and that clear records are kept ensuring that all relevant legislation has been respected and that all animals can be traced and checked.

“The European Commission has to act now to ensure that all existing animal welfare legislation is enforced in every EU member state and that any meat or live animals imported from third countries meet the same standard. The current situation where horses and millions of other animals are transported extremely long distances often in terrible conditions every year must stop in order to improve animal welfare and traceability,” commented Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals.

“Consumers have a right to know where the products they buy originate from and that they meet high animal welfare standards. Retailers must be much more transparent and accountable and show that they respect animal welfare and consumer safety,” she concluded.

The horsemeat scandal clearly demonstrates that some producers are unable efficiently to apply correct procedures to produce and trace food products. Very reasonably, Eurogroup wonders to what extent business operators can adopt and control practices during transport and in abattoirs to protect the welfare of animals.

The Eurogroup statement reflects the concerns of OneKind as the horsemeat scandal grows ever more complex and distressing.  New regulations governing the welfare of slaughter of animals in the UK are pending, and it is essential that consumers of meat can trust the provenance of the food and make their own choices about the welfare standards they are prepared to accept.

The one good thing that could emerge from this debacle would be a greater motivation among the authorities to monitor and trace all meat products – from the point of rearing to the point of sale.  This in turn must be applied to other issues, such as tracing the meat from animals killed without pre-stunning.  The current law requires such meat only to be supplied to members of the faiths requiring slaughter without stunning – but it is scarcely applied, with government and local authorities suggesting that tracing and monitoring the products is impossible.

However, if public health considerations and consumer expectations finally create the pressure required to ensure that meat products are, indeed, exactly what the label describes, it will set an example to follow as far as other production methods are concerned.  After all, the meat consumer’s reluctance to eat horse is largely a cultural taboo: whereas the determination not to eat cattle, sheep or poultry that have suffered unnecessary terror and pain at the end of their lives is a rational animal welfare principle.

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