Industry should put less emphasis on the cost of relabelling and remember the cost of plummetting consumer confidence, according to a European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) campaign to extend mandatory meat origin labelling rules to processed products.
The organisation wants processed meat products brought under the European Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) law, which includes the compulsory statement of country of birth, rearing and slaughter for fresh beef and is set to include country of rearing and slaughter for fresh pig, poultry, sheep and goat meat as of April 2015.
Pauline Constant, communications officer for BEUC, told FoodNavigator its campaign demanded this be extended to also require the birthplace of fresh pig, poultry, sheep and goat meat for processed meat. It also pressed for tighter controls on the use of antibiotics in animal rearing.
“The types of antibiotics used should be thoughtfully assessed as most antibiotics are administered to both human and animals. For instance the Belgian national food safety watchdog (AFSCA) recently found that in 98% of the farms visited, healthy animals were given critically important antibiotics, which are supposed to treat serious human infections.”
Constant said the price of relabelling had been overstated in arguments against such measures, saying a report from French consumer organisation UFC Que Choisir found origin labelling of beef on a pack of frozen lasagna would increase the price by just €0.0151. She said the price of not adopting such a measure could be potentially much greater.
“Refusing to display meat’s origin goes against transparency. With consumers’ confidence at a historic low, it is crucial to try and restore trust. And COOL can be part of the solution. One should keep in mind the cost of lost consumer confidence.
“The sales of frozen ready meals dropped in the aftermath of the horse meat scandal, costing industry a lot of money. A more transparent meat supply chain might be the price to pay to restore consumer trust.”
COOL meat transparency
The campaign asks consumers to share photos on social media of processed meat products such as burgers, nuggets, sausages and lasagne already displaying this origin information voluntarily to demonstrate COOL is feasible for these products; is already provided by some manufacturers and should therefore become the norm.
“We do not know the exact statistics of food makers displaying this information because they do so on a voluntary basis according to their marketing strategy. Our aim with the labels gallery is to show COOL for processed meat is possible.
"Of course meat origin labels may be more widespread in some countries than others. We believe, however, that all EU consumers should enjoy the same level of information on their meat.”
BEUC research in 2012 across several EU countries found 70% of consumers expressed a, “deep interest in knowing where their food comes from”, with this figure jumping to 90% when it came to meat. BEUC anticipated this sentiment would be even stronger since these figures were published a few weeks before the horsemeat scandal broke.
The campaign included 14 countries: Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Austria, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland. Yet countries such as the UK were missing from the list.
She said British consumers and BEUC's UK consumer watchdog member, Which?, shared its concerns on food traceability, but added: “Coordinating an EU-level campaign involving so many members is a first time for BEUC and unfortunately it turned out some countries were unable to join due to tight resources or agenda clashes.”