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Report on the application of the beef traceability and labelling rules

In this report to the Council and the European Parliament, the Commission evaluates the application of the legislation on beef and veal labelling by the Member States, examines the feasibility of extending beef origin labelling to processed beef products and beef prepared by operators in the restaurant and institutional catering sector, and formulates proposals that will serve as a basis for discussion.

The implementation of the provisions for beef traceability and origin labelling in Regulation (EC) No 1760/2000 has greatly helped to restore consumer confidence and beef consumption to the levels of before the second BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis in October 2000. It has led to a profound change in the way the operators in question organise their work and make trade in beef more transparent.

However, according to the European meat trade sector the scheme has caused a certain re-nationalisation of the trade in beef, in particular for beef products sold directly to final consumers (i.e. in the retail sector).

Consequently, the possibility of labelling beef as of EU origin rather than national origin, without reducing the guarantees provided for consumers, is worth looking into. This would be limited to establishments that prepare cuts of beef intended directly for final consumers. Under such a scheme, these operators would be free to decide whether to label products as being of national or EU origin, depending on the preferences of consumers and the distribution sector.

The Commission also notes that a number of Community rules are proving difficult to apply to certain types of operators in the beef sector in all Member States. The problems mainly concern the requirements regarding homogeneity in batches of beef at secondary cutting plants, traceability and labelling of off-cuts, supplies to minced beef plants and consumer information on beef products marketed in non pre wrapped form.

In most of these cases it should be possible to find a satisfactory solution without changing the principles underlying the Community legislation or compromising the operation of the traceability and origin labelling scheme already implemented by operators.

By contrast, the Commission is not in favour of extending the origin labelling rules to cover processed beef products, products containing beef and other ingredients or prepared meals produced by the restaurant and institutional catering sector or the fast food sector.

It believes that this would be particularly difficult for the operators in question to apply, for both technical and commercial reasons. Although Regulation (EC) No 1760/2000 has helped restore consumer confidence and beef consumption, extending its scope would bring only restrictions and extra costs without any commensurate public health benefits or increase in beef consumption: the costs associated with such a measure would outweigh any benefits.

For minced beef production, the Commission believes that introducing the possibility of using beef from slaughterhouses located in different countries in the same batch of minced beef could pose problems as regards tracing the origin of the beef.

This report is designed to serve as a basis for a debate in the Council and European Parliament regarding the Commission's assessment of the situation and the need, if any, to amend the legislation currently in force. Once the Council and the European Parliament have examined this issue, and in the light of any contributions made by the various interested parties, the Commission will make the appropriate proposals.

Published on 27/04/2004.

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Agricultural markets: Beef and veal


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