The main aim of the new regulation is to enable consumers to trace the source of the meat they buy right back to the animal. This system should enable any potential threats to human health be tackled early and effectively. In adopting the report by Michael PAPAYANNAKIS (PES, GR), the committee, chaired by Caroline Jackson (EPP/ED, UK), considerably modified the Commission's proposal.
The proposal lays down general rules for a compulsory system, to be introduced in two separate steps. Two stages are needed because full traceability cannot be ensured until 2003 owing to a delay by Member States in setting up computer databases on the identification and registration of slaughtered cattle. From 1 September 2000, operators and organisations marketing beef must indicate on the label certain information about the meat and the point of slaughter of the animal or animals from which that meat came. The system is to be reinforced from 1 January 2003, when information must be added concerning the origin of the animals, in particular where they were born, reared and slaughtered. Only then will the system be watertight.
The committee felt that there should not be too much information on the label. Consumers would be informed more effectively if labels indicated the Member State or third country of origin, rather than the precise region of origin of the meat, as the Commission had proposed. Regarding imported beef from non-EC countries, it was stressed that the same labelling rules must be applied and, where not all the information was available, a clear indication to that effect should be provided. For third countries which could not provide reliable information, the label should indicate: "Origin: non-EC". As from 1 January 2003, labels should also mention antibiotics and stimulants that might have been administered as well as fattening methods used. Finally, the committee was against derogations from the regulation for minced beef, beef trimmings or cut beef, arguing that this was not in the interest of the public health objectives pursued.
The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development saw a number of its amendments incorporated in Mr Papayannakis' report, which is scheduled for debate at the April plenary session in Strasbourg (codecision, first reading).