The European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling on the Commission to introduce mandatory labeling of the origin of all meats used in ready-prepared meals. Paris has expressed its strong support for the resolution. EURACTIV France reports.
The 2013 horsemeat scandal, which broke when Irish and British food safety inspectors found traces of horse DNA in “beef” lasagnes, burgers and other ready-prepared meals, has pushed European lawmakers to demand greater traceability of processed meat.
On 11 February, MEPs called on the Commission to draw up legislation requiring food producers to disclose the origin of all processed meats in its packaging. Between 30% and 50% of all the meat produced in European countries is processed before being sold.
In their non-binding resolution, MEPs “urge the Commission to follow up its report with legislative proposals making the indication of the origin of meat in processed foods mandatory in order to ensure greater transparency throughout the food chain”.
All types of meat
Beef is currently the only meat to be subject to compulsory origin labeling. This measure was introduced in 2002, in response to the outbreak of mad cow disease, and requires the labeling of the animal’s place of birth, rearing and slaughter, for maximum traceability.
MEPs argued that origin labels should be extended to all types of meat, and not restricted to beef. José Bové and Michèle Rivasi, French Green MEPs, said “The European Commission has only gone half way by only showing an interest in the origin of fresh beef, and not applying the rules to the meat used in processed products like lasagnes, pizzas, chicken nuggets, etc.”
France throws its hat into the ring
The European Parliament can expect to find a strong ally in the French government, which also hopes to push the Commission to progress rapidly with new legislation.
After the vote, the French Minister for Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, said “The labeling of the origin of meat should be seen as an enhancement for European meat products, not as a means of destabilising the interior market.”
>> Read: Level of horsemeat DNA in beef drops
According to the minister, the labeling of meat will be welcomed as a positive move by both consumers and the meat industry. Speaking on behalf of the French Government, Le Foll said he was committed to “mobilising his partners to demand a legislative initiative from the Commission as soon as possible”.
French support for the resolution could help speed up the legislative process, at a time when the European Institutions agree on the need to reestablish consumer confidence.
The European Parliament reiterated in its resolution the fact the 90% of European consumers want to know the origin of the meat used in the ready-made meals they buy.
“It is our duty to ensure consumers are aware of what they are eating,” said Angélique Delahaye, a member of the EPP, who also expressed serious concern over the possible financial implications of compulsory labeling.
Disagreement over cost
The possible cost of this extra labeling has emerged as the major sticking point between the Commission and the European Parliament.
>> Read: Parliament divided over meat labels
According to the European executive, consumers could expect to see a price rise of anywhere between 15% and 50% if compulsory origin labelling were to be introduced. This estimate, calculated by the Commission in December 2013, is completely at odds with the predictions of the French consumer association UFC-Que Choisir, which foresees an increase of just 0.67%.
The French Socialist MEPs Gilles Pargneaux and Éric Andrieu said, “The outrageous lobbying by the Commission based on cost does not stand up for one second: for a hachis parmentier [minced beef and potato dish] the cost would rise from €3.14 to €3.16. A whisker! So it is a matter of urgency that we act in the interests of the consumer.”
"This joint effort for truth and transparency should help to shore up European companies," said Stéphane Le Foll, French Minister for Agriculture.
"This subject has been caricatured by the food industries, which have put pressure on MEPs," said MEP Angélique Delahaye, of the EPP group.
"The European Commission, faced with the horsemeat scandal and the stir it caused among consumers, who have reafirmed their right to know what they are eating and not to be cheated, has only gone half way by only showing an interest in the origin of fresh beef, and not applying the rules to the meat used in processed products like lasagnes, pizzas, chicken nuggets, etc.," said José Bové and Michèle Rivasi, MEPs from the Green group.
"After the horse meat scandal, it is now up to us to regain consumers' trust. We are asking the Commission to come up with a legislative proposal with a mandatory country of origin labelling, because this will help to enhance transparency and to provide clear and complete information to the consumers," said Environment Committee chair Giovanni La Via (EPP, IT).
"We should not start ignoring the 90% of citizens that want to know what they are eating and use all the information available to make a conscious choice, just because the scandal is no longer front-page news. Our responsibility is to give them this information and to regulate the practices of the fool industry. The outrageous lobbying by the Commission based on cost does not stand up for one second: for an hachis parmentier [minced beef and potato dish] the cost would rise from €3.14 to €3.16. A whisker! So it is a matter of urgency that we act in the interests of the consumer," said French Socialist MEPs Gilles Pargneaux and Éric Andrieu.
On 17 December 2013, the European Commission presented a report to the Parliament and the Council on the probable consequences of a law forcing producers to indicate the country of origin or the source of the meat used in ready-made meals.
MEPs estimate that between 30% and 50% of the meat produced in European countries is processed into mince or other meat-based products.
UFC Que Choisir
- Study on meat labelling (in French)
- Resolution on country of origin labelling for meat in processed food - 11 February 2015