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What's in a label?

There is currently major political wrangling in Brussels as the EU finalises its approach to requirements for mandatory ‘country of origin labelling’ of fresh pork, poultry and lamb.

The EU will shortly finalise proposals for the required format of mandatory ‘country of origin’ labelling on fresh meat and frozen meat, excluding beef for which detailed rules already apply, but including fresh pork, poultry and lamb. The EU Commission is obliged to reach an agreed solution by 13 December, which will come into force at the end of 2014.

Producer interests favour mandatory ‘country of origin’ declarations, regarding the country where the animals were born, reared and slaughtered. In their view, this transparency will help repair consumer confidence, badly shaken by the ‘Horsegate’ scandal.

The meat industry has inclined towards a more flexible approach mainly distinguishing ‘EU’ or ‘non-EU’ meat, highlighting that a more rigid approach will significantly add to costs for the consumer, given the current levels of ‘cross-border’ trade within the EU.

There has been much debate surrounding the definition of ‘reared’ with the prospect of the original definition covering  six months now being reduced to four months. A detailed study has also been carried out to estimate the different cost impacts of the mandatory requirements to include various permutations and combinations of ‘born’ reared’ and ‘slaughtered’.

It is likely that there will be a derogation for minced meat and trimmings allowing the use of ‘EU’ or ‘non-EU’.

Whatever, the final outcome of the current discussions, labels may still carry a ‘voluntary’ declaration of ‘country of origin’ where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered in the same country.

And when an arrangement for fresh and frozen meat has been agreed, the EU will then have to set about negotiations for required ‘country of origin’ declarations on ingredients in processed meat products.

Watch this space