30 June 2000

Beef label vote

could win day

By Alistair Driver

and Shelley Wright

FARMING leaders, desperately concerned about the cost burden associated with proposed EU beef labelling rules, are pinning their hopes on a crucial vote in the European Parliament next Wednesday (July 5).

Euro-MPs in Strasbourg will debate the proposals, which currently require all beef to be labelled with the category of animal it comes from, such as bull, heifer, steer or cow.

The Meat and Livestock Commission has estimated this will add 10% to the cost of production, which MLC chairman Don Curry said will be passed back to the producer. But he said the extra cost of the controversial "categorisation" proposal would do nothing to improve public safety.

The EU Commission wants the new beef regulations, which will see the introduction of country of origin labelling, in place by September. EU farm ministers are aiming to finalise details of the new regulations when they meet at the end of July.

Only if the MEPs vote against the controversial categorisation proposal and others that the EU meat industry is unhappy with will there be any chance of amendments being introduced. But even if MEPs do vote to amend the legislation this could be over-turned by the council of ministers.

NFU president Ben Gill described the labelling proposals as bureaucracy gone mad.

If the proposals are not rejected, the British Isles would be hit hardest, he said. "There are no steers or heifers in Germany and many other EU countries."

Farm minister Nick Brown said his officials were still talking to the commission in a bid to ensure that labelling classifications did not put the UK at a disadvantage.

One of the companies that stands to lose from the new laws, the processor ABP, attempted to show the likely impact of the proposed labelling laws during a visit by a MEP to its Ellesmere plant last Friday.

West Midlands MEP Philip Bushill-Matthews was shown how the categorisation proposal will add between £20 and £50 an animal to production costs.

Mr Bushill-Matthews, has previously tabled amendments to the legislation and will be a keynote speaker during Wednesdays debate in Brussels before the vote.

Supermarket giant Tesco has also joined the argument warning that the labels will do nothing for consumer safety.

British farming and meat industry bodies are also pushing for the phrase "slaughtered in" to be dropped from labels.

The bodies believe that the phrase would be inoffensive in many EU member states but would have negative connotations when translated into English.