AGRICULTURE: COUNCIL WORKING PARTY GETS DOWN TO DETAILS ON MEAT LABELLING.

In order to facilitate technical work on the beef labelling dossier, the Finnish Presidency had organised policy debates within the SCA on November 22 and 29 and December 6, 1999, based on a precise questionnaire concerning the proposal for a Regulation abrogating Council Regulation 820/97/EC and establishing a system of identification an registration for cattle and the labelling of beef and derived products.At the latest SCA meeting, experts sought to reach agreement on a position paper drafted on the basis of the questions examined by their Committee. The majority of delegations indicated that they could accept the principle of a compulsory labelling system applicable to all beef sold in the European Union without derogations for retail sales by small butchers. Greece nevertheless argues that derogation should be extended to small retailers. Ireland and the United Kingdom are pressing for an exemption for meat produced and sold within the territory of a single Member State.--The EU Council of Ministers voted by a qualified majority on December 22, with the French delegation voting against, to formally adopt a Regulation postponing for eight months (from January 1, 2000) the introduction of a compulsory system for the identification and registration of cattle. EU Ministers had reached a political agreement on this issue on December 16. The voluntary labelling system established under Regulation 820/97/EC and currently in force in three Member States (Belgium, Finland and France) will thus be maintained until the entry into force on September 1, 2000 of the compulsory marking of beef. The postponement takes account of technical difficulties encountered by many Member States in indicating on animal passports the place of birth, rearing and slaughter of animals. The compulsory labelling system was to have entered into force on January 1 2000, as stipulated in the aforementioned Regulation. The additional eight-month period should permit the Council and the European Parliament to arrive at a decision on a further draft Regulation outlining general rules for a compulsory beef labelling system to comply with international commitments.--Information on labels.Regarding what information labels should be required to carry, the Member States first expressed support for the inclusion of a reference code identifying the animal or herd (guaranteeing traceability), the licence number and location of the abattoir (with reservations expressed by the...

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