German consumer ministers have called a meeting to address the EU-wide problem of tainted beef. The federal consumer minister, Ilse Aigner, has proposed labeling meat by its region of origin or using a registry number.
The Monday meeting in Berlin seeks to put an end to a horsemeat scandal that has shocked consumers across Western Europe ever since details of mislabeled meat came to light in January.
The federal consumer protection minister has already determined a plan to deal with horsemeat, requiring companies to attach a clear label to meat products, indicating either the country of origin or a registry number from the company that produced it.
"It has to be the goal within the year to work on labeling that would be used EU-wide and binding for all undertakings in the common market," Aigner said.
So far, labeling the origin of ingredients has not been required in the European Union.
The scandal hit Germany full force on Saturday after the Consumer Protection Ministry confirmed that 179,000 packages of lasagna suspected of containing horsemeat had been imported into the country. The frozen ready-made products were not labeled as containing horsemeat.
The online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel put the figure about double that, citing European delivery lists that reportedly showed that about 360,000 suspect packages of frozen lasagna and cannelloni had been imported.
"I can only advise business not to downplay this scandal and to support all steps to quickly clear this up and achieve transparency," Aigner told the daily Berliner Zeitung.
She said that she had not ruled out pursuing criminal charges.
EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg also threatened anyone who had intentionally contaminated beef products with horsemeat: "And anyone who brings meat contaminated with drugs such as Phenylbutazone to the market is a criminal."
The scandal began in January in the United Kingdom and Ireland and quickly spread to the Continent, with equine DNA showing up in frozen Italian-themed dishes, hamburgers served at fast-food chains and, even, a German magazine reported, in Döner sandwiches in Berlin.
"The horsemeat scandal destroys consumer trust," Aigner wrote in a guest column for the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
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