New Labelling Regulation: more COOL?

My Brittle Pony

Rumour has it that the European Commission will decide not to go for full country-of-origin labelling (‘COOL’) on all meat products in the European Union. According to the European Commission is planning to recommend only partial country-of-origin labelling for fresh meats. This is not in line with the request of MEPs and EU ministers who have explicitly asked to beef up the new Labelling Regulation with better meat origin labelling for both unprocessed and processed meats. Why does the Parliament pressure the Commission to impose origin-labels on processed meat?

The reason for the Parliament’s pressure: the horsemeat scandal

The horsemeat scandal has been making headline news over the last year. It was a scandal caused by fraudulent labelling. Horsemeat was present in beef products and the consumer was not informed about this. For a Dutch perspective on the horsemeat scandal, see this article (in Dutch).

To restore consumer confidence and to improve controls the Commission has launched an Action Plan. COOL is part of the Action Plan and the Parliament has been pushing the Commission to adopt mandatory origin labelling for both fresh meat and meat in processed food (meat as an ingredient). In April, and later in September 2013, MEP Glenis Willmott urged the Commission to put rules on country-of-origin in place on ‘country of origin’ labelling for meat in ready meals and in processed foods. This month Health Commissioner Tonio Borg received a letter from MEP Agnès Le Brun to further pressure the European Commission for better meat origin labelling. The MEPs main arguments are that the horsemeat scandal highlighted the need for honest food labelling and by using COOL producers would have a much better grip on their supply chain.

Could COOL ensure honest labelling and prevent fraud?

In March 2013 Commissioner Tonio Borg answered this question in an interview. According to Borg the horsemeat scandal should be seen for what it is: a fraud rather than a demonstration of a regulatory gap. COOL would not necessarily create another hurdle for fraudsters: “(…) one could be honest about the origin but fraudulent about the labelling on the ingredients.” If you want to see the video of the interview, click here. I agree with Borg. The horsemeat scandal was a case of intended mislabelling, COOL will not prevent it from happening again.

Country-of-origin: current EU legislation

The current Labelling Directive only requires the place of origin or provenance to be mentioned on the label where failure to give this information might mislead the consumer (article 3(8)). In the EU, the origin must always be labelled for olive oil, fish (unless it is canned or prepared), beef, fresh or frozen poultry of non-EU origin, wine, most fresh fruit and vegetables, honey and eggs. For all other foods, origin labelling is optional.

New Labelling Regulation

According to article 26 of the new Labelling Regulation, indication of the country of origin shall be mandatory where failure to indicate this might mislead the consumer and for meat listed in Annex XI (see below).

Annex XI

The following steps have to be taken by the European Commission from now:

Autumn 2013Adopt a Commission report on the possibility to extend mandatory origin labelling of all types of meat used as ingredient in foods and take any necessary follow up action.

December 2013 – Adopt implementing rules on the mandatory origin labelling of unprocessed meat of sheep, goat, pig and poultry, based on the new Labelling Regulation.

December 2013 – Adopt implementing rules to prevent misleading use of voluntary origin labelling in foods, based on the Regulation on Food information to consumers.

December 2014 – Adopt Commission reports, based on the new Labelling Regulation, on the possibility to extend mandatory origin labelling to:

  • other unprocessed meats not already covered by mandatory origin labelling rules, such as horse, rabbit, game meat etc.;
  • milk;
  • milk as an ingredient in dairy products;
  • single ingredient foods;
  • unprocessed foods;
  • ingredients that represent more than 50% of a food.

So far, no official report from the European Commission on the meat labelling subject has been released, but it is expected to be published soon. Anyway, you will see an update here as soon as the report is published.

More COOL?

The Commission has not given a clear position on COOL yet, but if the rumours are true, the Commission is set to propose COOL for fresh pork, poultry and lamb. Compared to the current legislation, this results in more COOL because the requirements are being rolled out from beef to other meats, which will have an impact on the meat industry. But not totally COOL as the Parliament wants to see it. At this point it looks like COOL for processed meat will be rejected, which probably will be substantiated through an impact assessment. COOL for processed meat is likely to turn out to be too costly for the industry, and the consumer might not want to pay the price for origin information. Of course this is still speculative. Stay tuned for the update!


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