Although the current horse meat scandal was initially depicted as an isolated instance of fraud and mislabeling generated by a single source of contamination, it is progressively escalating into a much broader food safety crisis.
This in turn reveals the existence of a more generalized set of misleading labeling practices that could escape the EU’s supposedly strict food regulatory regime.
The horse meat scandal began last month when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, testing suspiciously frozen beef burgers, discovered they contained horse DNA.
Since then, similar discoveries have swept across Europe, in countries such as the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, prompting several supermarkets as well as food giants, like Nestlé, to withdraw some of their meat-processed products.
In the absence of a general food safety concern, European countries cannot legally ban the import into their territory of any given product, thus safeguarding the sanctity of the EU internal market.
Furthermore, in these circumstances, the EU does not enjoy the legal competence to step in and respond.
Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and Risk Regulation at HEC Paris and Adjunct Professor of Global Risk Regulation at Georgetown University Law Center. He is co-editor of Better Business Regulation in a Risk Society, published recently by Springer, and editor-in-chief of the European Journal of Risk Regulation.