21 April 2000

September kick-off for single EUbeef labelling scheme

By Philip Clarke

EU FARM ministers have agreed to a speedier introduction of a single European beef labelling scheme following pressure from the European Parliament.

Introduced in two stages, the first will kick off on Sept 1, 2000, with all beef in shops having to show the ID number of the animal or herd, the number and member state of the slaughterhouse and cutting hall, and the category of animal.

Originally it was intended that the second stage would begin on Jan 1, 2003 – adding the country of birth and fattening to the labels.

But an opinion from the European Parliament last week called for this to happen much sooner. It wanted Sept 1, 2001 as the start date, giving just 18 months to prepare all the data bases and traceability systems in 15 member states.

This was considered too ambitious by the Council of Ministers, who this week opted for Jan 1, 2002, as the preferred start date.

Following pressure from the Parliament, they also agreed to include mincemeat in the regulation. But they rejected a call for beef reared in more than one member state to be called "Origin: EC". "All member states will have to be separately identified," said a spokesman.

UK calls for products of designated origin – such as Scotch or Welsh beef – to be exempt from the regulation were also turned down. "These are dealt with under separate legislation," said Council president, Louis Capoulas Santos.

But EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, accepted that consumers would show a strong preference for their own countrys produce. "I do not see this as a threat to the internal EU market," he said.

And a spokesman for Scottish agriculture minister Ross Finnie agreed that the European beef-labelling scheme would not jeopardise the Scotch beef brand.

The spokesman added that the agreement was good news because regional labels, such as specially Selected Scotch beef and Orkney beef would still be allowed, although packs would also have to carry a UK country of origin label.

He pointed out that the scheme still had some way to go before it was finalised.

The regulation will now go back to the Brussels committees for fine-tuning, and it may require a second reading in Parliament, though time is running short.

"We have already gone a long way towards meeting most of the parliaments suggestions," said a commission spokesman. "It is a reasonable compromise and I do not predict much further discussion."