Europol and DG Sante have remained silent on Croatian media reports that horse meat was found being sold as veal in the country.

Local media reported the findings had been made as part of Operation Opson X, which is coordinated by Europol and Interpol. DG Sante of the European Commission has supported national investigations looking at horse meat sales.

Further articles have quoted Marija Vuckovic, Croatian minister of agriculture, saying meat substitution with horse was not found in Croatia but was identified in other EU countries.

In 2013, Irish authorities uncovered horse meat being sold as beef in burgers and the fraud spread across Europe leading to millions of products being recalled.

Ongoing horse-related investigations
The latest Opson effort featured a targeted action on horse passport documents and horse meat in Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy and Spain. Investigations found some criminal activities and court cases have been opened in several European countries.

In Operation Opson IX, a project was launched to support national authorities in combating the sale of illegal horse meat. This was led by Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands with help from DG Sante. Follow-up during Opson X led to three investigations being started.

“There was an operation targeting horse passports in this year’s Opson, it’s a phenomenon we still see ongoing, it’s been a priority for two years and there is a working group on this specific theme for next year’s action as well. We will provide additional information as soon as possible but for the time-being everything is ongoing. We don’t have the overview of what the Croatian authorities have been doing,” said a Europol spokesperson.

A DG Sante spokeswoman said Europol is in charge and the EU Commission didn’t have any information. The Croatian Food Agency (HAH) has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Horse meat traceability
In Belgium, 230 horse passports were reviewed by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) as part of Opson X as well as 21 operations, including five in slaughterhouses. Findings included 35 false passports and seizures on 11 occasions.

Opson IX work on horse meat involved Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Activities focused on checking documents of more than 157,000 horses from eight countries and about 117 tons of horse meat. Live animals and more than 17 tons of meat were seized from several slaughterhouses in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

Inspections of slaughterhouses in several countries showed that about 20 percent of the foreign passports used for these horses showed signs of forgery. Competition horses with forged documents were also sent to slaughterhouses.

A falsified passport does not automatically mean a risk to the consumer. When a risk is identified, live animals and horse carcasses are seized, which has occurred in a few European slaughterhouses. The main purpose of passport forgery is to introduce horses excluded from the food chain into the supply network.

In Opson X, FASFC took samples from horses eligible for slaughter to look for drug residues. This revealed a lack of traceability. More than 50 percent of the equines didn’t have information on drug treatments they had received before slaughter. Analyzes revealed trace amounts of molecules that are authorized but can only be given to horses under certain conditions. However, the agency said no non-compliant meat entered the food chain.

In 2020, there were 3,811 horse carcasses assessed at Belgian slaughterhouses and 59 were excluded from the food chain.

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