10 March 2015
Article by Harriet Howe, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
In February 2015 MEPs called on the European Commission to bring forward legislation to make it mandatory for processed meat in prepared food to be labelled with a country of origin. This would extend the legislation which requires country of origin labelling for fresh meat, to meat ingredients in processed food such as sausages and ready meals.
Origin Labelling on meat packaging provides information on the country of an animal’s birth, rearing and slaughter. It has been a requirement for unprocessed beef since 2000, when it was introduced as a measure to control the spread of BSE. From April 2015 it will be extended to unprocessed pig, poultry, sheep and goat products, including meat which is fresh, chilled or frozen.
The extension of origin labelling has been one of a number of measures introduced by the EU to improve food safety and consumer confidence following highly publicised cases of ‘food fraud’, such as the 2013 horsemeat scandal. Work undertaken by the European Commission in 2013 found that over 90% of respondents want to know in which country their meat was produced. Depending on the Member State, 30-50% of the meat produced becomes an ingredient in a processed food product. Some farming organisations such as NFU Cymru have expressed support for these proposals. NFU Cymru:
“…clear labelling of these processed foods is essential to let the consumers know, not only what they are buying but where the ingredients actually originate from in the first place…Like the proposals in the resolution, we believe that labelling the origin of meat used as an ingredient in foods will help ensure better traceability along the food supply chain…It will also help create more stable relationships between meat suppliers and processors and increased diligence when food business operators choose their suppliers and products.”
However, the European Commission has been reluctant to introduce such measures over concerns that it could ultimately increase the price of food. A 2013 EU Commission report on food labelling estimated that prices could increase by 15 to 50%, depending on the product. This view has been supported by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) who argue that the new legislation would be too expensive and complicated to implement:
“…legislation to require origin labelling would be burdensome to achieve; increase costs; contribute little to improving consumer information; further complicate the label; and would have no impact on food safety”.
MEPs have disputed these findings, citing a French study which calculated the extra cost would only be around 1.5 Euro cents for a product such as a frozen beef lasagne. They have called on the European Commission to undertake further analysis of its figures.