Germany, the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain, Romania and the Czech Republic were opposed to any new legislative measure asking food manufacturers to print on the label of a food product the country of origin of the meat included in it.
"I do not believe a legislative proposal is justified, as the costs are not proportional to the benefits and existing voluntary schemes have been shown to work well for UK consumers," said British food minister George Eustice during the EU Council of Ministers (Agriculture) meeting in Brussels.
The debate was a response to the European Commission December 2013 report on the mandatory indication of the country of origin or provenance for meat ingredients, which was sparked by last year’s horsemeat scandal. The report shows that while consumers would want to have more information on the provenience of the meat in food products, they would not be prepared to pay for it.
The European Commission estimated that including a mandatory origin requirement for meat ingredient inputs would increase the operating costs of food manufacturers by 15% on average.
Indeed, Romanian Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin claimed the costs could go as high as 50%, based on information he received from the Romanian meat processing industry.
Other EU countries such as France, Italy, Finland, Latvia, Austria and Estonia wanted a more thorough technical report on the actual costs of mandatory origin labelling. France proposed that a group of experts be formed inside the EU Council of Ministers to further analyse the issue and see how the EU could respond to consumer demands for information without increasing the operating costs for providing it.
Three EU member states proved staunch supporters of mandatory legislation of country-of-origin labelling for meat used as an ingredient. The Netherlands, Malta and Sweden said consumers should be given the necessary information to make an informed decision, while keeping the costs for business as low as possible.
The EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said he would take into consideration yesterday’s debate and the opinion of the European Parliament before deciding to propose any new law. "We don’t know who would absorb the costs – and just as there is no such a thing as a free lunch, there is no such a thing as free labelling," he said, underlying one more time the expected high costs to be incurred by businesses as a result of such legislation.