Better information on meat products from July 2003

EU - From 1 July, new and stricter EU rules on labelling meat-based products will give consumers better information on what they are eating.
calendar icon 26 June 2003
clock icon 4 minute read

A Directive amending current EU labelling legislation(1) to tighten up the definition of the term "meat" for the labelling of meat-based products entered into force on 1 January with a double circulation period of affected products until the end of June 2003. Consumers generally perceive meat to mean muscle-meat.

The new definition will allow consumers to clearly see if they are eating muscle-meat, fat or offal. The Directive applies to products that contain meat as an ingredient, while meat sold without further processing is excluded. Affected products include sausages, pâté, cooked meats, prepared dishes and canned meat.

David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said: “Clear labelling is the key to empowering consumers to make their own choices about what they buy and what they eat.

The Directive is clear on the need to indicate which species the meat comes from, so as to distinguish for example 'pig meat' from 'beef meat'.” Enforcement and possible sanctions arising from infringements of EU legislation relating to the labelling of foodstuffs are the responsibility of the Member States.

Products should now be labelled according to the new rules

In the meat labelling Directive, provision was made for a six-month transitional period from 1 January to 30 June 2003, allowing industry to conform to the new requirements. During this period, goods produced in keeping with the new rules and the old rules were both allowed on the market. The biggest changes will therefore become visible gradually from now in July, when all products will have to be labelled in conformity with the new rules. However, the trade in goods labelled before the end of June will continue to be authorised, while stocks last.

What does the meat labelling Directive do?

Some Member States previously adopted their own definitions of meat for labelling purposes. This definition will now be harmonised at EU level. The Directive contains a set of provisions to improve consumer information on meat products in a variety of ways.

The Directive restricts the definition of meat to the skeletal-attached muscles, which is a major development. Other parts of animals for human consumption, such as offal (including the heart, intestine and liver) or fat, will now have to be labelled as such and not as “meat”.

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 so that for example 'beef meat' is distinguished from 'pig meat'.

Finally, the definition excludes “mechanically separated meat”. In beef, mechanically separated meat has been banned entirely due to BSE. For other species, mechanically separated meat will have to be labelled separately and cannot form part of the meat content of any products in which it occurs.

New plans on labelling for chickens

A separate initiative to improve the labelling of chickens will be proposed soon. David Byrne said: "A problem was raised recently in the UK and Ireland, where there were cases of processed chicken products being wrongly labelled. In these cases, “chicken fillets” were found with traces of pork and beef proteins as well as added water and ingredients serving to aid water retention. I have therefore decided that there is a need for further labelling requirements for chicken and other meat preparations. I will propose to the Member States that we create legislation requiring the explicit mention of for example "chicken breast with added water ” on the food label.”

(1)Commission Directive amending Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs.

Source: European Commission - 26th June 2003

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