DEFRA prepares for EU country of origin labelling

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

How to define country of origin in terms of a fresh meat products was just one subject to cause controversy
How to define country of origin in terms of a fresh meat products was just one subject to cause controversy
An expert committee of the EU wants country of origin labelling (COOL) for fresh meat products under the new Food Information Regulation (FIR) to be restricted to member states and no other geographical area, sparking fears the same could apply to manufactured products where meat is the main ingredient.

If this strategy – revealed in a draft paper to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) yesterday (Tuesday, September 10) – is adopted by the European Commission (EC), UK ministers will face an uphill battle to allow fresh meat products to be labelled from the regions or even from Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland.

DEFRA deputy director of food Lindsay Harris said the paper was an attempt to tackle the thorny issue of declaration of origin and country of origin rules ahead of next year’s implementation of the FIR.

According to the EU, the FIR is designed to make food labelling easier to understand for consumers.

The regulation combines rules on general food and nutrition labelling into a single EU regulation.

‘Most contentious hotspots’

Two of the most contentious hotspots in FIR negotiations have been how to define country of origin in terms of a fresh meat product – should it be where an animal is reared or slaughtered, or both? – and how to define the geographical area on packs?

The expert committee paper – which Harris stressed had not yet been approved by the EC and was shared informally – defines origin as being the place of both rearing and slaughtering. The country of origin is defined as an individual Member State or another country.

This appears to be put at risk any other type of geographic labelling, he suggested.

Furthermore, Harris said the paper argues there should be no other voluntary indications of origins, such as flags or other national symbols.

Harris, speaking in London at an ‘Understanding Food Information Regulation’ conference organised by the Food and Drink Federation, said DEFRA would argue against the inclusion of the place of slaughter.

But ministers would be most keen to ensure there was the provision for individual country and other geographical labelling, not least “Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales”, he added.

Geographical labelling

“We want to interfere less with good business practice,”​ said Harris. “We will​ [press for] provision of a geographic area within Member States.”

Harris suggested this stance would find favour with many other states, should the EC progress down this route.

In terms of products where meat is a main ingredient, the EU is currently assessing making COOL mandatory.

One delegate said she had been advised that if this was the case, the EU would take the same approach to manufactured products as it would with fresh meat, potentially causing a raft of labelling problems.

“I take your point,”​ said Harris, who added he would now be writing to trade bodies to get their views on the draft paper.

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