Food Navigator | 22 August 2019
CETA raises questions over transparency of meat labelling
By Katia Merten-Lentz, partner at Keller and Heckman
The EU-Canada trade deal, which came into force on a temporary basis in 2017, is
working its way through national legislators for approval. The controversial agreement
raises a number of questions about labelling and transparency. Katia Merten-Lentz,
partner at Keller and Heckman, takes a look at its implications for the meat sector.
On 13 July, the French Parliament agreed the adoption of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the EU free trade with Canada. This new treaty facilitates, among other things, the entry
of Canadian regulated meat on the European market.
However, the general public has its reservations about this part of the trade agreement, given the different viewpoints between the Canadian and European public on genetic modification, animal welfare and the use of hormones.
This raises the question of whether the European meat labelling requirements are adequate to make sure that EU customers are fully informed about the origin and growth conditions of meat imported under CETA.
Limitations of meat country of origin labelling
Under European regulation, the labels of beef and beef products, whether they are fresh or frozen, have to indicate the country of origin. This is defined as both the country in which the animal has been reared in
and where it has been slaughtered.
In contrast, Canadian imported meat can have been partly raised in the US under US regulations, while its
official country of origin is defined Canada. Today’s regulations and labeling requirements can leave the
consumer unaware of its real origin.
Moreover, country of origin labelling is currently mandatory only for beef and beef products (a result of
bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis). Even though the impact assessment of the Commission confirmed that the origin of meat appears to be a prime concern for consumers, the origin of swine, sheep, goat and poultry meat is not to be labeled, unless failure to indicate this might mislead the consumer.
This means that swine or poultry from Canadian origin can be sold within the European market without the requirement to inform the consumer of its non-European origin.
To counter this, several Member States – including France – have adopted experimental schemes of mandatory origin labelling for meat or meat ingredients. Depending on national rules, the Canadian origin
of meat may be labeled.
Non-labelling of GMO feed
In the EU, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including those obtained through new breeding technics, are subject to a specific and strict legislation.
Again, the policy is significantly different in Canada, which is taking the lead in GMO development - genetically modified salmon is already on the Canadian market.
GM meat is still very rare and could not be imported to the EU under the CETA. However, there are some
concerns about the use of GM crops in animal feed.
However, the lack of information on food labels alerting consumers to the use of GM feed is not specifically related to food imported under CETA : it also applies to meat of European origin.
In fact, GMOs are already imported from outside the EU’s boundaries as feed for farm animals. These GM crops are within the EU permitted as feed for livestock - and not as food. There is no requirement for them
to be mentioned on the package.
Hormone treated meat and animal welfare
Any product placed on the EU market must be labeled in accordant with the FIC regulation. However, the CETA raises new issues. Meat from animals treated with growth hormones is theoretically forbidden from being imported to Europe. However, the trade agreement remains silent regarding the import of animal waste and antibiotics fed animals. This silence could lead to “negative claims” initiatives in
the EU and strengthen consumer’s information in accordance with EU law.
For instance, some companies are already promoting their meat by labelling animal welfare. The evaluation of the animal welfare is founded on international scientific referential and more than 230 criteria. The substantation of welfare claims strenghtens their compliance with general food information requierements, as any must be accurate and not mislead the consumer.
Meat labeling remains consumers’ prime concert in the EU. However CETA raises many questions and it is up to food businesses to comply with various requirements, in order to highlight their products and provide accurate information.