14 July 2000
Collision course over beef labelling

By Philip Clarke

EUROPEAN farm ministers are under increasing pressure to drop the requirement to include the age and sex of an animal on retail packs of beef.

The proposal forms part of controversial new beef labelling law due to take effect in European member states from 1 September.

In addition, packs of beef would also have to give the reference number of the animal involved, plus the member state of the abattoir and cutting hall.

Ministers meet to vote on the issue on Monday (17 July). But the European parliament has already voted by 330 to 172 against such categorisation.

This puts the parliament on a collision course with the European Commission and European Council, which want labels to specify whether the beef comes from a young bull, old bull, steer, heifer, cow or calf.

Speaking in Strasbourg last week, European farm commissioner Franz Fischler said such a move would give consumers maximum information.

France has also been fighting for this measure, which already forms part of its own Viande Française labelling scheme.

But Caroline Jackson, a Conservative MEP, believes this has more to do with France wanting equality of agony rather than any desire to inform consumers.

French meat traders are known to resent the additional burdens put on them by their own labelling scheme, she said.

Urgent talks have been held in Brussels to try to broker a compromise ahead of the meeting of European farm ministers council.

If farm ministers reject the amendments, the council, the commission and the parliament will have to try to negotiate a solution.

Normally this takes six weeks. But with Brussels shutting down for the whole of August, further delays to the 1 September start date seem inevitable.