The delegation will discuss how such measures could work within the meat processing and import sectors, and the practicalities of COOL proposals contained within the draft Food Information Regulation (FIR) currently before the EU Commission.
COOL is already compulsory for certain foods such as beef, olive oil and fresh fruit. But on June 16 the European Parliament voted to extend it to other single-ingredient products including meat, poultry and dairy products, as well as meat, poultry and fish used as composite ingredients in processed foods.
Ahead of the meeting, one senior food industry source opposed to COOL’s extension told FoodProductionDaily.com: “Unfortunately the new government is heavily swayed by the farming industry’s interest in national provenance rules. Far from tempering the EU’s enthusiasm for the FIR, ministers want to gold plate it.”
Claire Cheney, director general, PTF, added that her members also disapproved of proposed changes, especially in relation to composite products:“Take cured bacon, there’s a risk of pork being mixed up in the factory where on any given day it arrives from several different sources and is cured and sliced.
“On an automatic production line you could be producing one finished product and slapping origin labels on top – at a certain point you’re going to have to stop the line and change labels to satisfy the new regulations. It’s ludicrous.
“Government officers will be unable to police the FIR’s implementation across the entire industry, and there’s no way of telling from a finished product that origin claims are accurate. It will simply penalise our members, who will honestly comply.”
Voluntary approach works
Cheney added: “Aside from pushing-up costs of ingredients for producers due to the fact that they cannot change ingredient suppliers flexibly due to packaging changes, this legislation will cost the consumer. This is why we favour a voluntary approach, and FSA research shows that voluntary declarations work.”
The FSA figures in question, from May to June 2009, show that 78% of meat and meat products sold in supermarkets and other retailers carried COOL statements regarding ‘last substantial change’ under voluntary industry schemes, while 44% of meat products declared meat ingredient origin.
However, the ‘last substantial change rule’ means that Danish pork cured in Scotland, for instance, could be labelled as ‘Produced in Scotland', leading the FSA report to conclude: “The FSA recognises that because of rules on last substantial change, product origin declarations on meat products are not in all cases the information that consumers value the most.”
Nonetheless, the PTF and other industry bodies remain opposed to EU proposals to make even voluntary ‘origin of meat ingredient’ declarations more specific, by adding stipulations regarding the inclusion of location of birth, rearing and slaughter.