9 March 2001
Farmers’ markets break EU rules

By Mike Stones

UP to 80% of Britains 300 farmers markets could be forced to close because European Union (EU) red tape means they are selling meat illegally.

Under EU legislation introduced in 1994, any retail butcher can cut meat for sale in his own premises under the control of the environmental health officers.

But butchers cannot cut meat for sale by second parties unless they hold a cutting licence, according to Eric Moss, a leading Suffolk farmer and retailer.

If the regulation was strictly enforced, Mr Moss said it would mean up to 80% of producers selling meat at farmers markets would have cut it illegally.

“A few of us near to an EU cutting plant could continue to sell our own meat, but farmers in whole areas of middle England and the south-west would not.”

James Pavitt, co-ordinator with the National Association of Farmers Markets, said only a few members would have access to butchers with cutting licences.

“Its a potential problem. Shortening the food chain and improving traceability should be encouraged rather than strengthening bureaucracy.”

Mr Pavitt said he believed that the European Parliament was pressing for the UK to comply with the legislation introduced seven years ago.

Rural campaigner Caroline Cranbrook said: “It could cost between 10,000 and 20,000 to set up a cutting plant.”

But she believed that government aid, possibly via the rural development agencies, could help farmers invest in their own cutting facilities.

However, Gareth Jones, national consultant to the Farm Retail Association, said fears about farmers failing to comply with meat-cutting laws were premature.

“We should wait a month or two to learn the results of the working party study set up by the Food Standards Agency,” he said.