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3. Labelling matters

Although new EU labelling rules for identifying the ‘country of origin’ for fresh pork come into force in April, there is still much debate whether similar mandatory requirements should be extended to labelling the origin of meat used in processed products.

In April, Member States will have to implement an EU labelling regulation, laying down specific requirements for the ‘country of origin labelling’ (COOL) of fresh, chilled and frozen pork, lamb, poultry and goatmeat - EU No. 1337/2013. The regulation requires mandatory labelling of the ‘country of origin or place of provenance’

“Where does my meat come from?”

The regulations also establish additional requirements for documentation of traceability by meat processors, as well as a requirement that meat must be accompanied by information on the label on the country where the animal was reared – in the case of pigs over 6 months age, this means the country ‘in which the last rearing period of at least 6 months took place’ or for younger pigs it may mean the country of rearing from 30kg weight.

If the term ‘origin’ is used, then the meat must be obtained from animals born, reared and slaughtered in one place.

This regulation is unlikely to cause any significant issues for much of the fresh meat currently marketed in the UK, where ‘country of origin’ has been prominently displayed on most labels for many years. As regards pig meat, most retailers and meat processors are signed up to the'Code of Practice for the Labelling of Pork & Pork Products' since 2011 – which covers both fresh and processed pig meat products. 

‘Pork Provenance’ labelling guidelines

However, there has been significant debate recently regarding mandatory country of origin labelling for meat used as an ingredient in processed foods. The extension of the rules has been vociferously supported by producer organisations across the EU and more recently by the European Parliament.

A report published by the European Commission in December 2014 highlighted the potential cost increases that would follow the introduction of detailed legislation on declaring the origin of meat ingredients used in processed products compared to voluntary declaration. Their report suggested that ‘COOL’ was an issue of concern for a significant number of EU consumers, although it ranked in fifth place after other factors such as ‘taste’ ‘use or sell by dates’ ‘appearance’ and ‘price’. They also qualified these results by pointing out that the research took place during the months of the Horsegate crisis and may tend to overstate the real levels of concern about provenance of meat, especially processed products.

This view is corroborated by other research studies such as work by Datamonitor Consumer, which concluded that “freshness trumps traceability in local food buying habits”. 

Danepak – example of voluntary approach to COOL

Many in the UK pig meat trade believe that current labelling rules are sufficient to prevent misleading origin labelling, and compulsory origin labelling of meat as an ingredient is therefore not necessary and will add significant costs. As evidenced by the number of signatories to the 'Code of Practice for the Labelling of Pork & Pork Products', the current voluntary approach is working well, and a high proportion of bacon and ham labels provide origin information voluntarily, usually stating the place of curing and the source of the pork, where this is appropriate.