Although compulsory beef labelling did not come into force on 1 January 2000 as it was originally supposed to, the Council agreed in December, under pressure from Parliament, that voluntary labelling should be extended for 8 months only and not until the end of 2000.
Parliament and the Council now have to work to a tight timetable, with the first reading in April, in order to agree new rules on the identification and registration of cattle and the labelling of beef and beef products by the summer. The Commission proposal now on the table provides for compulsory labelling to be introduced in 2 stages and completed by 1 January 2003.
Committee Chair Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf (Greens/EFA, D) warned that Parliament would not agree to any further postponement of compulsory labelling after 31 August. The discussion amongst MEPs and Commissioner Fischler turned chiefly on the information to be included on the label, with Lutz Goepel (EPP-ED, D) and Niels Busk (ELDR, Dk) unconvinced that Member States were close to agreement on this.
All the political groups and the Commissioner agreed on the need for simple, clear labels enabling shoppers to trace a cut of meat in the supermarket back to the original animal. Heinz Kindermann (PES, D) and Niels Busk said consumers should only be given relevant information and not be burdened with excessive detail while Georges Garot (PES, F) warned against "hiding behind codes and indecipherable labels". Arlindo Cunha (EPP-ED, P) opposed the option of not specifying the Member State or States where the animal was born, fattened, slaughtered and deboned and merely indicating "Origin: EC". Danielle Auroi (Greens/EFA, F) stressed that a simple tracing system was essential for hotels, canteens, restaurants and hospitals.