I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 50 together.
All beef sold or served in the retail or catering sector is now required by law to carry an indication of country of origin. There are EU Regulations which provide for the labelling of unprocessed poultry meat at retail level. The information which these regulations require on the label includes the registered number of the slaughterhouse or cutting plant and, where imported from a Third Country, an indication of country of origin. There are no specific EU regulations governing the labelling of pigmeat or sheep meat beyond the general food labelling regulations which do not require ‘country of origin' information.
The general EU food labelling regulations covering all food sold in Ireland require that the information be given clearly, accurately and in a language understood by the consumer. Among these requirements is origin marking in cases where failure to provide such information would be likely to mislead the consumer to a material degree. This legislation comes under the remit of the Department of Health and Children.
The primary legislation enacted by the Oireachtas last year, under which our beef labelling requirements on country of origin were extended to the catering sector, also allows for the extension of country of origin labelling to other meats. However, because different origin labelling requirements apply to other meats in the retail sector, under current EU legislation, and there are also different systems of traceability as well as some import/export complexities, it is not as straightforward as it is for beef. The European Commission has opposed Member States introducing legislation in this area that is in excess of common EU requirements. Nonetheless, my Department is at present in the process of drafting new regulations to require operators in the retail and catering sectors to provide country of origin information on poultry meat, pigmeat and sheep meat. It is my intention to submit these regulations, when they are finalised, to the European Commission for approval as required by EU law.
Of course, the preferred way forward is that the Commission would progress the question of country of origin labelling of all meat at EU level. I have been in regular contact with the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection on this subject. I have also raised this issue in the Agriculture Council and will continue to take every opportunity to press for progress on this matter. I have used the opportunity provided by bilateral meetings with EU Ministerial colleagues to seek their support for EU action on Country of Origin Labelling and so far have been encouraged by their response.
The Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission undertook a consultative process on a wide range of issues in this area last year, under a document entitled ‘Labelling: Competitiveness, Consumer Information and Better Regulation for the EU'. I arranged for my Department to make a submission on food labelling and country of origin labelling of meat in particular to the Department of Health and Children, who co-ordinated the Irish contribution to this process. This confirmed my strong preference for origin labelling of meat and meat products and the desirability of there being common EU-wide legislation to support a labelling regime. In the meantime, my Department will continue its work on the drafting of national measures.