March 28, 2014
EU countries divided on country-of-origin labelling of meat
European Union (EU) countries remain divided on whether mandatory labelling of the country of origin of meat used as ingredient in processed food products would bring benefits that justify costs.
A meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels on 24th March revealed that there are still differing views on the three origin labelling scenarios presented in the report on the possible extension of mandatory origin labelling for all meat used as an ingredient, which was published in December 2013.
While many delegations are in favour of introducing a mandatory labelling, some would like an indication of the specific EU or non-EU country and some others would prefer a general indication of EU/ non-EU origin. Some others want to maintain the status quo - keeping origin labelling on a voluntary basis.
Three EU member states proved staunch supporters of mandatory legislation of country-of-origin labelling for meat used as an ingredient. The Netherlands, Malta and Sweden said consumers should be given the necessary information to make an informed decision, while keeping the costs for business as low as possible.
Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain, Romania and the Czech Republic were opposed to any new legislative measure asking food manufacturers to print on the label of a food product the country of origin of the meat ingredient.
"I do not believe a legislative proposal is justified, as the costs are not proportional to the benefits and existing voluntary schemes have been shown to work well for UK consumers," said British food minister George Eustice.
The European Commission estimated that including a mandatory origin requirement for meat ingredient inputs would increase the operating costs of food manufacturers by 15% on average. Romanian Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin claimed the costs could go as high as 50%, based on information he received from the Romanian meat processing industry.
The report, sparked by last year's horsemeat scandal, shows that while consumers would want to have more information on the provenience of the meat in food products, they would not be prepared to pay for it.
France, Italy, Finland, Latvia, Austria and Estonia wanted a more thorough technical report on the actual costs of mandatory origin labelling. France further proposed that a group of experts be formed inside the EU Council of Ministers to further analyse the issue and see how the EU could respond to consumer demands for information without increasing operating costs.
The EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said he would take into consideration the debate and the opinion of the European Parliament before deciding to propose any new law, in view of the expected high costs to be incurred by businesses as a result of such legislation.