The European Commission (EC) is pursuing amendments to EU food regulations requiring stricter traceability for all Member States. It has canvassed trade organisations to ascertain how much the legislative changes would cost the industry.
The Food Storage and Distribution Federation (FSDF) has claimed it would cost its members an extra £5M per year. Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned the bill could amount to as much as £294M.
The main question is whether online supply chain data should be immediately accessible. If so, this would require an expensive IT overhaul that the industry could ill afford, according to the trade bodies.
The FSDF, the BRC and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) believe the changes would be unnecessary for the UK, because it already has sufficiently robust traceability procedures.
"A food business operator only needs to know where you have got animal foodstuffs from and where they are being sent to the EU wants every step covered," said Chris Sturman, chief executive of the FSDF.
"You're talking millions of pounds of additional costs for software; staff training; gathering and storing information ... It would cost £5M to implement per year, with ongoing costs in excess of that.
"We will need to collect additional information to that which is currently recorded and this could delay the movement of product. The current system provides traceability that would identify infringements as long as they are properly policed and operated."
Sally Barber, BRC food policy executive, called the proposals "a recipe for disaster" and "a frustrating piece of legislation to be working on". She said: "You would have to think about substantial costs to industry."
The proposals were made in response to food fraud cases in which suppliers were selling meat fraudulently with misleading labels on it, Barber said.
However, she added: "This proposal won't stop people who are potentially fraudulently engaging in illegal practices." She called for the wording of the legislation to be specifically targeted at the original source of the problem.
The FSA believes the trade bodies have over-estimated the costs to its section of the industry. "We agree with them [the FSDF] that the costs should not outweigh the benefits, but it's likely the amendments will go through because most member states are in favour of that," said an FSA spokeswoman.
The EC is shortly expected to produce an assessment of the impact of the regulatory amendments on the European food industry.