The decision - voted 460 for to 204 against, with 33 abstentions - followed a majority vote in favour from Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) MEPs in January and a plenary debate in Strasbourg on Monday evening. FoodNavigator was told that the debate lasted two hours, a significant time by Strasbourg standards, with 14 amendments tabled but none adopted at the vote today.
One of the rejected amendments asked for the inclusion of the fact that most SMEs changed their suppliers at least three times a year to guarantee raw material supply and quality at an affordable price, meaning the labelling changes could increase the administrative burden for them. The inclusion of more information on consumer prioritisation of price over origin labelling and doubt that such legislation would be able to prevent such food fraud events as the horse meat scandal was also requested.
These points have all been raised by trade association FoodDrinkEurope (FDE), which has continually said that such legislation would hurt businesses, consumers and the environment through higher administrative costs and potential food waste.
Meanwhile the European Snack Association (ESA) told our sister publication BakeryandSnacks.com that it was concerned such legislation would include low percentage meat-based ingredients like flavourings in crisps. The establishment of such a minimum percentage does not appear to have been discussed yet.
The issue will now move to the European Commission to create legislative proposals.
UK MEP and Labour’s European spokesperson on food safety Glenis Willmott said she hoped the Commission would listen to this call from MEPs and extend mandatory country of origin labelling to all meat in processed food.
Commenting on the vote, she said: “This is about clear, honest labelling that doesn’t mislead consumers. If a beef lasagne is labelled as a British product, then this should mean that it was made with British beef."
She said the labelling would help to restore trust in the food industry, which was hit badly following the horsemeat scandal.
“Labour MEPs believe consumers have a right to know where their meat comes from and we’ve been calling for this for several years.”
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) also backed the vote. “We are delighted that the European Parliament seized a golden opportunity to support what 90% of EU consumers have been calling for - a more transparent meat supply chain.”
BEUC director general Monique Goyens said it was “high time” measures were taken to ensure manufacturers knew what was in their products and labelled them accordingly, citing this week’s revelation from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) that one in five takeaways in the UK contained undeclared meat species.
Yet the FDE said the move went against the principles of the EU single market and did not allow for flexibility in the supply chain.
“The meat used in processed foods often comes from different EU and/or non-EU countries; these countries might frequently change in order to ensure an affordable price, a steady quality and constant availability to consumers all over Europe and beyond.
“Forcing companies to provide the country of origin of meat in processed foods would require production lines and batches to be differentiated according to country; this would reduce the flexibility to buy from different sources, would make supply chains less efficient, make production more costly and create more food waste.”
The MEPs acknowledged that a clearer understanding of price impacts was needed since existing estimations have varied.