Food Law News - EU - 1999

12 October 1999: BEEF - Commission sets timeframe for beef labelling

Commission Press Release (IP/99/737), 12 October 1999

Commission sets timeframe for beef labelling

The European Commission will adopt tomorrow two proposals setting the timeframe for the compulsory labelling of beef in the European Union (EU). Both are based upon Article 152 (Public Health) of the Amsterdam Treaty. The objective of the first proposed Regulation is to set up a transparent obligatory labelling system in two steps. The first stage, which will enter into force one month after the adoption of the regulation and aims to inform the consumer about the information readily available at the point of slaughter. From 1 January 2003 the beef label has also to include, in addition, information on where the animal was born and reared. Given the time required for adoption of the first regulation, the second proposal prolongs the existing Regulation (EC) No 820/97, for voluntary labelling (which Member States may make obligatory in relation to their own production) until 1 January 2001 at the latest.

It had been intended to introduce a compulsory beef labelling system by 31 December 1999. However, the Commission is of the opinion that these proposals for the two regulations concern health protection and hence require a co-decision procedure under Art. 152 (ex-Art. 129) of the Treaty. An in depth discussion on this very important subject, in Parliament and in Council needs to be given sufficient time. This makes the entry into force of the compulsory labelling scheme by 2000 impossible.

"The proposal will enable the consumer to trace the beef he buys from the farm to the table. And in the event of a breach of the provisions the Commission proposes to lay down appropriate penalties." Mr Franz FISCHLER, Commissioner of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, said. Mr David BYRNE, Commissioner of Health and Consumer Protection, for his part stated that "the proposals will enable full tracability of cattle in the EU which will ensure that any potential threats to human health can be tackled early and effectively".

Towards A Credible Beef Labelling System

1. The first proposal covers the substance on the future obligatory labelling requirements. The Commission proposes to proceed in two stages. Not all cattle slaughtered in 2000 will have full passports and hence no traceability throughout the life of the animal, will be readily available at the slaughterhouse.

In a first stage the Commission introduces those elements which do not depend upon functioning registration and traceability systems. For example, the obligation to put the place of slaughter on the label. This can be verified at the place of slaughter without detailed information from a passport.

The "Step 1 Label" must at least include:

From 2003:

The second stage additionally introduces those elements dependent upon registration systems that guarantee full traceability.

"The Step 2 Label" must furthermore contain:
- Member State, region or holding, or third country, of birth;

However, for simplification where the beef is derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and de-boned: Operators or organisations producing minced beef, beef trimmings or cut beef shall at least indicate on the label the Member States, regions or de-boning halls, or third countries, where the production of the beef took place.

2. From present to 1 January 2001 at the latest

The second proposed Regulation aims to prolong the existing legal base for voluntary systems, including the possibility of them being made compulsory by Member States in relation to production on their own territory. This is essential in order to avoid a legal void, whereby a legal requirement for obligatory labelling would be created but without any indication as to how this would be required to be done. This would produce chaos in the supply chain undermining consumers' confidence in labelling. This prolongation will last until one month after the second regulation, which covers the substance of compulsory labelling, is adopted by the Council and the European Parliament. However, the prolongation of the existing arrangement is limited to 1 January 2001.

Legal Background

The background on beef labelling is the existing Council Regulation 820/1997. It covered both a new identification system for bovines and labelling of beef products. It was based upon article 43 of the Treaty and foresees a voluntary scheme but with the possibility for Member States to make the voluntary scheme obligatory on their own territory in relation to their own production. France and Finland have done this. The initial Commission proposal was for a mixed legal base, Art. 43 and Art. 100a rather than Art. 43. The Council decided unanimously to base the regulation upon Art. 43. The Commission subsequently introduced a case to the European Court of Justice which is awaiting judgement. In the light of the Amsterdam Treaty the legal base for veterinary proposals concerning health protection must be based upon co-decision.

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