Farm ministers back mandatory origin labelling for all meat

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EU agriculture ministers threw their weight yesterday (21 February) behind calls for mandatory origin labelling of pork, lamb and poultry, with milk and dairy products to follow later on.

Ministers yesterday adopted the EU Council's first-reading position on a draft regulation on providing food information to consumers.

Country of origin labelling is already compulsory for foods such as beef, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables, when failure to do so risks misleading consumers.

In June, the European Parliament supported extending those rules to all meat, poultry and dairy products. Country of origin would also have to be stated for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food, they said.

Agriculture ministers also backed this approach yesterday. They agreed that compulsory labelling of the country of origin would be requested for pork, lamb, and poultry.

But the extension of the labelling requirements to dairy products, meat and milk used as an ingredient, would only be possible after a feasibility study, to be conducted by the European Commission, the ministers said. The same study would also cover unprocessed foods, single-ingredient products and those representing more than 50% of a pre-packed food.

Industry opposed to origin labelling

Meanwhile, the EU's food and drinks industry lobby CIAA remains opposed to the extension of mandatory origin labelling.

Existing rules on origin labelling – required where a failure to do so might mislead the consumer – is sufficient, it said.

The CIAA fears that extending origin labelling to several types of meat would be "unworkable" as in many cases, "the origin or provenance may often change according to price, stock availability or place of production, etc."

Large food companies, which source their produce according to available stock and prices, would thus need to constantly change the labels on their produce. This would be highly impractical and extremely costly, argues the CIAA.

However, should the existing rules are extended, the industry is demanding that at least an impact assessment, including a stakeholder consultation, must be carried out to assess the need, feasibility and practicality of such an extension.

MEPs suggested stating that products are "of unspecified origin" when determining origin is impractical. But a CIAA spokeswoman noted that such statements wouldn't bring anything in terms of information to consumers, and would merely raise fears regarding a product's origins.

After yesterday's agreement, the food information dossier now goes back to the European Parliament for a second reading.

Food packaging and labels, such country of origin, can be used by marketers to encourage potential buyers to purchase products.

In 2008, the European Commission proposed new legislation on providing food information to consumers.

The proposal combines two existing directives into one regulation – a 2000 directive (2000/13/EC) relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs and a 1990 directive (90/496/EEC) on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs.

The aim is to make food labels clearer and more relevant to consumers and set specific requirements for displaying information on processed foods on the front of packaging.

  • 14 April 2011: 2nd reading report scheduled for adoption in Parliament's environment committee.
  • 5 July 2011: 2nd reading plenary vote.

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