The European Commission is pushing for food fraudsters to be punished with tougher financial penalties in response to the horsemeat scandal.

Sanctions for those convicted of fraud should reflect the economic gains made as a result of the fraud, health commissioner Tonio Borg said yesterday (6 May), as he presented a package of measures to modernise the European Union’s agri-food chain.

“Crime must not pay, but if the penalties are low, it does pay,” he added.

Borg also announced plans to introduce legislation enabling the EC to force member states to carry out tests and controls on potential areas of food fraud. At present, it can only ask member states to conduct tests.

The EC also wants countries to conduct more unannounced checks and controls to better prevent food fraud.

“Restoring the trust and confidence of our citizens and trading partners is key given that the agri-food industry is the second largest economic sector in the EU, employing over 48 million people and is worth some €750bn (£631bn) a year,” Borg said.

The package put forward by Borg also contains proposals to simplify EU food chain legislation from 70 pieces of legislation to five, as well as proposals on animal and plant health.

Borg’s proposals will need to be approved by the European Parliament and the European Council. The package is then likely to come into force in 2016.