Beef labelling to take “step backwards”

The move to drop the requirement for independent verification of voluntary beef and veal labelling claims has been branded “a step backwards” by an industry expert.

Currently any voluntary claims, over and above the legally required labelling information, have to be registered with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and independently verified, on an annual basis, before they can be approved, as part of the European Beef Labelling Scheme.

A spokesperson for the RPA, confirmed to Meat Trades Journal that the existing notification and approval procedure for voluntary beef labelling claims, an EU regulatory requirement, would be removed, with effect from 13 December 2014. “This follows changes to EU rules on beef labelling agreed earlier this year. After this date voluntary beef labelling will be aligned with the general EU rules on food information for consumers. This will remove much of the unnecessary financial and administrative burden facing a range of food business operators across the beef industry when making voluntary claims, particularly small businesses,” he said.

Lesley Hemson, food sector manager at leading accredited food product certifiers, Kiwa PAI, said this was a step backwards in terms of labelling requirements, especially in the wake of horsegate and the findings of the Elliot Review published earlier this month. However the RPA added that any information added to beef labels on a voluntary basis, after 13 December, would still need to comply with “the rules on the provision of food information to consumers contained in Regulation (EU) 1169/2011, which are enforced by local authorities”.  
“The removal of the voluntary beef labelling notification and approval process will have no impact on the traceability of beef or unprocessed beef products as this is maintained under the compulsory beef labelling rules,” added the spokesperson.

Under the new rules these voluntary claims, for example that a beef cut was 28-days matured, or came from Aberdeen Angus cattle, will come under the remit of Trading Standards, according to Hemson. “Previously we would visit the abattoir, farm, farm shop or retailer to check that these claims were accurate before reporting back to the RPA on whether the necessary standards had been met,” said Hemson. She questioned whether Trading Standards would be able to effectively check these claims alongside their existing workload.

“Trading Standards have a lot of companies to get round. Will they really make it round to all of them?” She suggested the reason the requirement for independent verification had been dropped may have been because there had been very few issues with inaccurate claims in the past. H

However she posed the idea that this may well have been because businesses are unlikely to make a claim if they know that these claims were to be verified before approval. “If you knew you were going to be visited you probably wouldn’t claim something that you couldn’t prove,” she said. “If the independent verification process was working, then why remove it?”

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