With the EU's Food Information Regulation due to come into force on 13 December 2014, a number of important changes will be brought about for the origin labelling of meat. In addition to these new laws, food business operators will need to be conscious of forthcoming implementing rules and possible future proposals which may affect meat labelling.
ORIGIN LABELLING OF UNPROCESSED MEAT
The new EU Food Information Regulation (EU Regulation 1169/2011) ('FIR'), which is due to come into force on 13 December 2014, will extend mandatory origin labelling to unprocessed prepacked pig, sheep and poultry meat. Mandatory country of origin labelling for beef has been a requirement of EU law since the time of the BSE crisis. The FIR also requires that the Commission examine more extensive forms of origin labelling for processed meat, in particular for meat ingredients.
The Commission has yet to introduce detailed implementing rules for the application and scope of origin labelling for unprocessed prepacked pig, sheep and poultry meat. These implementing rules will establish requirements in terms of the information needed regarding the place of an animal's birth, rearing and slaughter. The FIR had required that these implementing rules be published by 13 December 2013, however these rules have not yet been issued and a Commission report on the matter is due to be published during 2014.
ORIGIN LABELLING OF MEAT INGREDIENTS
Under the FIR, the indication of the origin of meat ingredients contained in prepacked composite products will not be mandatory. The one major exception to this is where a prepacked processed food, which voluntarily indicates a country of origin or place of provenance, contains meat as a 'primary ingredient' which itself comes from a different country of origin or place of provenance. In this case, the country of origin or place of provenance for the processed food and the primary meat ingredient must both be indicated. 'Primary ingredient' is defined by the FIR as an ingredient or ingredients of a food that represent more than 50% of that food or which are usually associated with the name of the food by the consumer and for which in most cases a quantitative indication is required.
In December 2013 the Commission produced a report which examines 3 scenarios for the extension of mandatory origin labelling to meat ingredients in prepacked foods. Scenario 1 envisaged maintaining the status quo of voluntary labelling of meat ingredients, which was dismissed by the Commission for failing to "provide a fully satisfactory solution to the consumer demand for origin information". Scenarios 2 and 3 envisaged the introduction of mandatory origin labelling based on the indication 'Origin EU/Origin non-EU/Origin Third Country', while scenario 3 examined the feasibility of mandatory origin labelling based on the indication of individual countries (i.e. Origin Ireland, Origin Morocco). Origin labelling on the basis of scenario 2 was regarded as 'too generic' by the Commission, while scenario 3 was regarded as providing "meaningful information to consumers".
A number of operational challenges, which would require radical adaptation on the part of food business operators, were identified by the Commission in relation to scenarios 2 and 3. The EU's current traceability system, which is designed with the objective of food crisis management in mind and on the basis of the 'one step forward – one step back' principle, was not regarded as adequate for the purposes of cumulative traceability for origin determination.
The Commission noted that any new rules on mandatory origin labelling could have significant impacts on sourcing decisions. Food business operators might seek to reduce the number of suppliers from different countries in order to reduce the need to change origin indications on packs. Origin labelling was also projected to have a negative impact on intermediaries due to the decreased demand for meat batches composed of meat of differing origin.
Plants sourcing meats from different countries would also be required to implement internal product segregation and traceability systems. In addition, costs would be incurred in the adaptation of packaging and labelling.
During 2014, food business operators will need to respond to the publication of detailed new rules on mandatory origin labelling for unprocessed prepacked meat. In due course, further rules may emerge on origin labelling for meat ingredients.
The report on origin labelling for meat ingredients is the first in a number of other reports, required by the FIR, on origin labelling for milk and dairy products, unprocessed foods and single ingredient products, due to be published by 13 December 2014. Therefore, the outcome of the report on origin labelling of meat ingredients will undoubtedly set the pace for future EU rules on origin labelling.
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.