The European Parliament endorsed on Thursday (6 February) a motion which rejects the new rules on origin labelling of meat that were tabled by the European Commission following last year's 'horsegate' scandal.
While the Commission wants the place of rearing and slaughtering to be labelled, it has not proposed mandatory labelling of the place of birth, lawmakers complained.
Under the Commission proposal, pork could have been labelled as “reared” in an EU country if the pig had lived there for just four months, or for just one month in the case of poultry.
“Consumers want the full picture of the meat supply chain, which is why I am calling for the place of birth, rearing and slaughter to be labelled," said Glenis Willmott, a British Labour MEP (Socialists & Democrats), who drafted the Parliament resolution, which was adopted with 368 votes to 207 and 20 abstentions.
"Many people want to know whether animals have come from places with good welfare standards, and how far they have been transported, for ethical and environmental reasons," Wilmott added.
Carl Schlyter MEP, the Greens' spokesperson on food safety, agreed that the Commission proposal was not good enough and that recent food scandals had underlined the need for full transparency in the food production chain.
"Displaying this information is also an important tool for meat-eaters who want to choose to eat meat from animals that did not suffer the stress of long-distance transport, given the failure to reduce animal transport times in the EU," Schlyter said.
While the Parliament's vote isn't binding, MEPs hope the Commission will heed the outcome and come forward with a new proposal providing for "full transparency".
Horsegate could happen again
Exactly one year after horsemeat was detected in products labelled as beef across Europe, prompting product withdrawals and government investigations into food chains, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said a similar scandal could easily happen again.
In an Interview with EurActiv, BEUC's director general, Monique Goyens, called for mandatory origin labelling for meat in processed meals and bigger penalties for food fraud.
"We need words to be turned into action so that fraud can no longer occur. We should keep in mind that meat is not even in the top 10 food products most subject to fraud," Goyens said.
The horsemeat scandal broke when Swedish frozen-food company Findus withdrew all its beef lasagna ready meals from supermarkets after tests revealed they contained up to 100% horsemeat.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA), a British government body, gave food companies a week to test all their beef products upon discovery of the mislabelled products. The UK agency instructed consumers to return the Findus lasagnas and Tesco burgers as a precaution, but said there was no evidence to suggest that horsemeat itself was a food safety risk.
Recent years have seen a growing interest on the part of European consumers to know the origin of the food they buy.
In response, some industry operators have recognised the marketing opportunity this provides and communicate on the origin of their products.
Indications such as "made in", "product of", etc. are multiplying on food labels as well as flags, symbols or pictures which can indirectly imply or suggest a particular food's origin.
However, with the exception of a limited number of foods such as fruit and vegetables, beef, fish or eggs, for which specific pieces of EU legislation already provide for mandatory origin labelling, origin information remains absent from many foods sold on the EU market.
- 13 Dec. 2014: New EU food labelling legislation applies.
- Press release: Country of origin labelling rules for pigs and poultry need beefing up, say MEPs (6 Feb. 2014)
- Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety: Motion for resolution
- The Greens: MEPs send Commission back to drawing board and vote for full lifecycle labelling of meat
- Socialists and Democrats: Labour MEPs call on UK government to back full country of origin labelling of meat