The only current Community definition of meat makes no distinction between muscle-meat, fat and offal, whereas consumers generally perceive meat to mean muscle-meat. The existing system is therefore not satisfactory, and a number of Member States had already adopted their own definition of meat for labelling purposes.
"This harmonised definition is designed to give the consumer more information by making the labelling of meat-based products more transparent and more precise. I believe that consumers have a right to the best possible information on the food they are eating. Labelling is an essential instrument to that end, and my priority is to help consumers make an informed choice", said David Byrne, Member of the Commission responsible for health and consumer protection. "The Directive we are adopting today also eliminates a number of obstacles to trade caused by differing national definitions."
The Directive contains a set of provisions to improve consumer information on pre-packed meat products in a variety of ways.
First of all, it restricts the definition of meat to the skeletal-attached muscles, which amounts to a major change. Other parts of animals for human consumption, such as offal (heart, intestine, liver, etc.) or fat, will now have to be labelled as such and not as "meat" (see below).
However, there is provision for a certain part of the fat content, where it adheres to the muscles, to be treated as meat, subject to the maximum limits laid down in the definition.
The Directive also provides for the systematic indication of the species from which the meat comes (beef meat, pig meat, etc.). This information is very important for consumers in helping them to understand better the price differences between products and to help them make an informed choice on the basis of their personal preferences.
Finally, the definition excludes "mechanically separated meat", which in future will have to be labelled separately and cannot form part of the meat content of any products in which it occurs.
The Member States will have until 1 January 2003 to transpose this directive into their national law. Any products made after that date will have to be labelled according to the new rules. However, products made before that date and which are labelled under the old rules can still be sold until stocks run out.
Maximum fat and connective tissue content for ingredients designated by the term meat