As of 1 April 2015, food business operators must comply with new EU rules on the labelling of fresh, chilled or frozen meat of swine, sheep, goats and poultry. These new labelling rules are in addition to the obligations imposed by the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (the "FIC Regulation"), which came into force across the EU on 13 December 2014 (read our previous update here).
In this Briefing, we look at the different wording which should now be included on labels of fresh, chilled or frozen meat of swine, sheep, goats and poultry where the:
- meat is obtained from animals born, reared or slaughtered in a single member state or third country;
- meat does not originate in one single state;
- meat is imported from third countries; and
- meat is minced meat.
1 APRIL 2015: EXTENSION OF COUNTRY OF ORIGIN REQUIREMENTS
From 1 April 2015, under Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1337/2013, it is obligatory to display country of origin or place of provenance information on the labels of fresh, chilled or frozen meat of swine, sheep, goats and poultry.
Food business operators must have a traceability system in place at all stages of the production and distribution of meat, from slaughtering to packaging, to ensure a link between the labelled meat and the animal or group of animals from which that meat has been obtained. The Implementing Regulation seeks to strike a balance between the provision of information to the consumer and the subsequent extra cost and administrative burden for operators and national authorities, which inevitably has an impact on the final price of the product.
The FIC Regulation already requires that details on the country of origin or place of provenance must be indicated if a failure to do so might mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product. The general labelling requirements under the FIC Regulation apply without prejudice to labelling requirements provided for in specific EU provisions, including the Implementing Regulation.
WHAT INDICATION SHOULD BE USED?
Animals born, reared and slaughtered in a single member state or third country
Where the food business operator proves to the satisfaction of the competent authority (in Ireland, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland) that the meat has been obtained from animals born, reared and slaughtered in one single EU member state or third country, the appropriate indication is:
- Origin: (name of EU member state or third country)
Meat does not originate in one single state
Where the meat does not originate in one single state, all of the following indications must be used:
- Reared in: (name of EU member state or third country);
- Slaughtered in: (name of EU member state or third country); and
- The batch code identifying the meat supplied to the consumer or mass caterer.
The country of origin of meat is related to a defined rearing period in the life of the animal. The rearing period varies between the different animal species, from one month (poultry) to six months (swine) to two-thirds of their natural life for sheep and goats. If the rearing period is not attained in any of the EU member states or third countries where the animal was reared, the indication should read:
- Reared in: several member states of the EU; or
- Reared in: several non-EU countries; or »» Reared in: several EU and non- EU countries.
If the food business operator proves to the satisfaction of the competent authority that the animal was reared in certain EU member states or third countries, the indication may read:
- Reared in: (list of the EU member states or third countries where the animal was reared).
Meat imported from third countries
Meat imported from third countries is subject to less stringent labelling requirements when placed on the EU market. It may bear a general indication such as:
- Reared in: non-EU; and
- Slaughtered in: (name of the third country where the animal was slaughtered).
Minced meat and trimmings
There is a derogation from the more stringent labelling requirements for minced meat and trimmings, which may be labelled as one of the following:
- Origin: EU; or
- Reared and slaughtered in: EU; or
- Reared and slaughtered in: non-EU; or
- Reared in: non-EU and Slaughtered in: EU; or
- Reared and slaughtered in: EU and non-EU.
DO THE COUNTRY OF ORIGIN REQUIREMENTS APPLY TO MEAT USED IN PROCESSED FOODS?
The legislative provisions to date do not extend to meat used in processed foods. In February 2015, the EU Parliament voted to recommend that the EU Commission make it mandatory to state the country of origin of meat used in processed foods, such as ready-made lasagne and burgers.
This followed the publication by the EU Commission in December 2013 of a report on meat as an ingredient and a Staff Working Paper on "Origin labelling for meat used as an ingredient: consumers' attitude, feasibility of possible scenarios and impacts". In its report, the Commission noted that the introduction of country of origin labelling requirements in respect of meat in processed foods would cause a significant increase in costs for companies and public authorities, which would ultimately be passed on to the consumer. The Commission therefore recommended that the effects of any additional burden on businesses and/or consumers be further examined in order to gain a clearer picture of the possible price effects, provided that this would not delay legislative proposals.
Food business operators must ensure that they have processes in place that are compliant with the Implementing Regulation, which applies from 1 April 2015. Products which were lawfully placed on the market prior to 1 April 2015, but which may not be compliant with the Implementing Regulation, can continue to be sold until all stock reserves have been exhausted.
In addition, while the Commission is the only body which can formally table legislative proposals at EU level, the Parliament's recent proposal is a clear indication of its stance on the issue of country of origin labelling and consumer protection. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Commission will adopt the Parliament's recommendation. All of the above suggests that the current trend at EU level is to move towards more extensive labelling requirements in respect of food products.
This article contains a general summary of developments and is not a complete or definitive statement of the law. Specific legal advice should be obtained where appropriate.