Sept. 1, 2000, was the date the first stage of a new system for the identification and registration of beef and beef products in the European Union (EU) went into effect.

As of that date, member states have to indicate on the label, down to the retail level, the country of slaughter, country of cutting-deboning, the reference code of the animal and its category. This requirement also is applicable to minced beef.

The second stage, to take effect Jan. 1, 2002, would require member states to indicate the country of birth, fattening and slaughter. This goes beyond the commission proposal, which foresaw that beef born, raised and slaughtered in an EU-member state would just be labeled "EC Beef." In the council-approved version of the regulation, third-country products would be labeled "non EC Beef" and also would mention the country of slaughter. If beef was born, raised and slaughtered in the same third-country, it could be labeled by country of origin.

How does this affect U.S. cattlemen? Leo McDonnell Jr., Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund president, Columbus, MT, said, "Currently, it won't have much effect, as the EU has a barrier on most U.S. beef products. However, if that barrier is taken down, this means the Europeans will know more about our beef products than our American consumers." McDonnell went on to say, "What a wealth of information this will provide for cattle producers. For an example, if a calf born in Australia is fed in Canada, slaughtered and broke in separate U.S. plants and then shipped to the EU for consumption, every move will have to be recorded and we finally will see each link in the beef production chain."

The EU admits the policy objectives are complex, with no fewer than 33 parts. The major themes, however, include: strengthen consumer confidence in beef; enable veterinary authorities appropriate controls on EU and imported animals for the purposes of combating animal diseases; enable all beef offered for retail sale to be traced back to the processor, the slaughterhouse and, ultimately, the farm of origin; avoid imposing excessive administration burdens on producers; and give the maximum transparency in the market for beef.

"The question you have to ask yourself is: 'If the EU can do this, why can't we,"' said Malcolm Moore, R-CALF director, Auburn, KS. "Country of origin labeling has been identified time and again by U.S. cattle producers as a priority for the future of the industry; we need our government to adopt and implement legislation that provides consumers with the same right to know. American consumers of agricultural products have the same right and need to know the quality and origin of the product they buy as their European counterpart. It is part time agricultural producers across America demand country of origin labeling on all agricultural products," Moore said.

Publicity programs for the EU system of beef and veal labeling were approved following a commission regulation of April, 1999. The total budget amounts to 6.8 million euro ($6 million U.S.). These promotional programs are meant to inform consumers of the safety guarantees that the system offers and increase confidence in the quality of beef. Fifteen projects, which will be 100% EU financed, will include a range of media, point-of-sale and public relations components. They are designed to emphasize the particular consumer benefits and the communitywide scope of the labeling system.

Country of origin labeling is just one of the issues R-CALF is working on to benefit American cattle producers and the American consumer.

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