The European Commission (EC) has released the results of its investigation into beef products contaminated with horsemeat, reporting that 5 percent of tested products were contaminated with horse DNA and 0.5 percent of tested horse carcasses were contaminated with the pain reliever phenylbutazone (bute). The investigation apparently involved 7,259 tests carried out by 27 member states in addition to 7,951 tests conducted by food business operators, including producers, processors and distributors.

Based on these results, the Commission has reiterated the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) assessment that bute contamination poses a low risk to consumers. “Today’s findings have confirmed that this is a matter of food fraud and not of food safety,” said EU Commissioner for Health and Consumers Tonio Borg. “Restoring the trust and confidence of European consumers and trading partners in our food chain following this fraudulent labeling scandal is now of vital importance for the European economy given that the food sector is the largest single economic sector in the EU.”

To this end, the Commission will meet with food industry experts to discuss whether to extend the current testing program as part of an effort “to enhance consumer confidence.” It has also proposed changes to “the EU food chain legislative framework (the ‘animal and plant health package’),” including measures designed to strengthen official controls and provide “a legal basis to impose dissuasive financial sanctions on food fraudsters” that take into account financial gain resulting from the fraud. See EFSA Press Release, April 15, 2013; EC Press Release, April 16, 2013.