New EU labelling rules could disrupt trade, says industry

By Carmen Paun, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

Meat labelling in the EU

Related tags: Meat industry, Meat products, European union, Lamb, Livestock, Pork, Poultry

New national origin labelling rules for pork, sheep, goat and poultry meat made in the European Union (EU) could reduce the trade in meat products between the 28 EU countries, EU senior meat industry figures have warned.

In a joint statement, Jean-Luc Mériaux, secretary general of the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV) and Detlef Stachetzki, manager at the German meat industry federation (VDF - Verband der Fleischwirtschaft) said: “The rule gives rise to the belief of EU citizens that products produced in their own country are better/safer/healthier/ than the products from other countries.”​ This will work against the EU’s aim to bring together its 28 member states in a single market and also deter trade in meat products with the rest of the world, the two industry representatives told Globalmeatnews.com.

The new labelling rules were endorsed by EU ministers on December 6 and are expected to come into force on April 1, 2015, to give the industry time to adapt.

From them on, the pork, sheep, goat and poultry meat products will have to carry labels with information on the animal’s place of origin, place of rearing and place of slaughter. For those animals born, raised and slaughtered in the same country, the labelling should not be complicated: “Origin: EU member state/third country”​, shall be indicated.

But things will get more complicated when the animal was born in one place, reared in other and slaughtered in yet another country.

For example, for a pig which was less than six months old and weighed less than 80 kilograms when it was slaughtered, the label will have to indicate the country in which the whole rearing period took place since the animal’s birth. The scenario changes for pigs that were less than six months old when they were slaughtered but weighted more than 80 kilograms.

The label will have to indicate in this case the “member state or third country in which the pig was reared from a live weight of 30 kilograms until slaughter,”​ according to the European Commission. Finally, for pigs older than six months at the time of slaughter, the label will have to mention the country in which the latest period of four months of rearing took place.

All of these different rules may influence how long piglets will be kept in one country before being shipped to another one, but also how long the fattening period will be, according to Mériaux. “In order to comply with the definition of the provenance, the farmers may amend these parameters and the change may have an impact on the costs of production,” he said. The fattening period might be reduced to comply with the six months requirement, according to the UECBV secretary general, who noted that this will result in a reduction of the weight and higher costs per kilogramme.

When it comes to sheep and goats, if the animal is less than six months old when slaughtered, the label should mention the country in which the whole rearing period since birth took place. If it is older, the label will have to specify the country in which the latest period of six months of rearing took place. But this does not make much sense for sheep, according to Eddie Punch, secretary general of the Irish Cattle andSheep Farmers association (ICSA). “Six months means that the label will be irrelevant for a significant amount of sheep traded live as lambs are typically finished at a faster rate and the economics of keeping sheep for a further six months feeding after importing them would be dubious,” he told Globalmeatnews.com.

The meat industry will be able to comply with the new rules, according to Mériaux, since companies know which animals the meat batches are connected to due to the traceability rules already in place. But traceability should not be confused with the information to be provided to consumers, he warned, as that may create expectations that cannot be met. While the traceability system allows the companies and the authorities to assign a piece of meat to the animal it came from, under the current system, consumers are only given more generic information such as “reared in several member states” or “reared in several non-EU countries”, “slaughtered in” and so on.

Countries that rely a lot on sales to and from the rest of the EU, such as Germany, shall expect a significant impact from the new rules, according to Mériaux and Stachetzki. “For instance, Germany purchases 4.6 million pigs for slaughter from the Netherlands; other four millions from Belgium, Denmark and France,”​ said Stachetzki. Once the new rules are in place, the meat batches will have to be separated based on the countries of rearing, which will make them more numerous and smaller. This is expected to affect small companies, more than larger ones and especially those which process many animals coming from other countries.

Moreover, the market will not be able to adapt as easily as it does now, as suppliers from one side of Europe may not be able to respond to shortages in another part of the continent if consumers prefer a specific country of origin, rearing or slaughter, according to Mériaux and Stachetzki. This may in turn bring higher price peaks or drops depending on the balance between the demand and supply of meat from specific countries.

Related topics: Meat

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