18 July 2000
Europe caves in over beef labelling

By Philip Clarke

EUROPEAN agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels have agreed to water down controversial new beef labelling laws due to begin in September.

Originally it was intended that retail packs of beef would have to show whether the meat they contained came from a bull, steer, cow or calf.

But farmers and the meat industry had claimed this would have added significantly to processing costs for little consumer benefit.

The Strasbourg Parliament last week voted to drop the clause. The European Farm Council bowed to pressure and followed suit late on Monday (17 July).

Had it failed to do so, the matter would have gone to a lengthy conciliation process between the two institutions, delaying the intended start date.

Jean Glavany, French agriculture minister and farm council president, addressed reporters immediately after the meeting.

“Member states unanimously agreed that the most important thing was to have the beef labelling regulation ready to apply from 1 September,” he said.

This spirit of compromise also meant the council accepted a further parliament amendment, bringing minced beef within the scope of the new rules.

From 1 September, labels on mince must state where the animal involved was slaughtered and where the product was prepared.

European farm commissioner Franz Fischler described the move as “risky”.

He said: “It is possible the economic effect will be a degree of re-nationalisation, as processors will not want to import meat from different origins.

“They will tend to cover their needs from one source.”

Overall, however, Dr Fischler described the deal as an important step in enabling full traceability of cattle “from the stable to the table”.

From 1 September, retail packs will have to give the member state or third country of slaughter and cutting, plus the number of the abattoir and cutting hall.

And from 1 January, 2002 beef labels will also have to include the country where the animal was born and reared.