The code, which will cover meat and meat products, dairy products and eggs, draws heavily on a voluntary code of practice recently drawn up by the pigmeat sector to cover pork and pork products.
While some manufacturers at a seminar on COOL hosted by Campden BRI last Friday questioned the value of this exercise given that new EU legislation on COOL was in the pipeline, a DEFRA representative at the seminar said the voluntary code would help focus people's minds.
It would also ensure that food manufacturers were on the front foot on the issue as and when the EU Food Information Regulation came into effect, she said.
In the first reading of the Regulation at the European Parliament in June, MEPs voted to extend COOL from selected foods such as beef and olive oil to other single-ingredient products including meat, poultry and dairy products.
More controversially, they also voted for mandatory COOL on meat, poultry and fish when used as ingredients in processed foods such as ready meals, stews and pizza, which many manufacturers argue would be impractical and hugely costly, without delivering any meaningful consumer benefit.
A step too far?
Even the British Pig Executive (BPEX), which was instrumental in creating the COOL code of practice for pork, said extending COOL to cover meat ingredients in complex processed foods such as pizza was "probably a step too far", said director Mick Sloyan.
Many delegates at the seminar also questioned whether consumers were really asking for this level of information on food packaging.
What did show up in consumer research, however, was that shoppers understood 'origin' to mean where an animal was reared, and not the place at which it underwent the "last substantial change", as the law currently stipulates.
As for industry take up of COOL labelling, a recent survey of more than 600 products conducted by Campden BRI had revealed that fewer than half of meat products such as pies featured COOL labels, and just 4% of dairy products.
However, COOL labelling on unprocessed meats was almost ubiquitous.
'Product of the EU'
Provision Trade Federation director general Clare Cheney said members were already doing a lot when it came to COOL, adding: "There’s a question of what more, if anything, that our members can do on a voluntary basis. And the answer is, I think, not much."
Where products contained meat ingredients from multiple EU countries, said Cheney, "We have reason to believe that the phrase 'product of the EU' should suffice" [rather than having to spell out the place of birth, rearing and slaughter for each one].
"A question mark remains over milk used in dairy products such as cheese. I can’t imagine consumers getting too exercised over the issue of whether the milk used comes from both Ireland and Northern Ireland, for example."