Country of origin labeling is already compulsory for certain foods, such as beef, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables, however, in late June MEPs supported extending this to all meat, poultry, dairy and other single-ingredient products. They also voted for the country of origin to be stated for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food, however, this may be subject to an impact assessment.
Meat labels should indicate where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered, says the European Parliament, and, in addition, meat from slaughter without stunning should be labeled as such.
MEPs also backed European Commission proposals that quantities of fat, saturates, sugar and salt, as well as energy, must be indicated on the front of food packs. They also called for details of protein, fibres and transfats to be included elsewhere on the packaging.
Appealing to concerns
The Parliament’s vote is important for a number of reasons. Currently, food that is processed within an EU Member State can be labeled as originating from that country. For example, a ready meal that has been produced within the UK could be labeled as a “Traditional British Sunday Roast”, even if none of the ingredients were from the UK.
With growing concern over food miles and campaigns aimed at consumers to buy locally, the appeal may disappear from foods that are marketed as being “traditional” and “local”, when it becomes clear that they are not quite as genuine as they may appear.
And one would assume the changes to any packing would not be able to be hidden in the small print on the back as MEPs have said that they want to ensure that labels are legible and that food producers must take a wide range of factors into account in this regard.
Commenting prior to the vote, Italian MEP Giancarlo Scotta, said: “The problem is supermarkets. They import food from all over the world, and then label it according to the last stage of transformation. This is not transparent for the customer and makes traceability very difficult. In the report (on the proposals), there is also a strong call for a ‘short distribution chain’.”
Whether the Parliament’s move is deemed to be an attempt at giving consumers better information about the food they eat or an attempt at protectionism remains to be seen.
What is clear, however, is that the EU is a poultry meat importer, and that demand for poultry meat is set to increase.
Should the buying public turn hostile to the meat that it is offered, those countries that do export to the EU may have to launch marketing campaigns to win over European consumers. The work of the Fairtrade Foundation demonstrates how products produced overseas can be successfully marketed and consumers encouraged to seek them out in preference to any others.
If exporters to the EU are unable to convince the bloc’s consumers, local producers will have to increase production to substitute those products that are currently imported.
Any change will not be immediate. The draft legislation is likely to return to Parliament for a second reading and, once adopted, food businesses will have three years to adopt the new rules, but restrictions are looming.