The UK government has confirmed it will not push for compulsory country-of-origin labelling for meat in processed food, claiming a move would be too costly.

The Daily Mail, citing “leaked” documents and emails, revealed the UK government would not go ahead with the plans to push for mandatory labelling following the findings of a European Commission report, launched at the end of last year, which said the costs to both manufacturers and consumers of such a scheme would be too high.

The news has angered some food groups that had called for more transparency within the supply chain in the wake of the 2012 horsemeat scandal. Campaigners claimed UK Prime Minister David Cameron had promised such labels before coming to power.

A spokesperson for Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, told just-food yesterday (23 June): “This is outrageous, the Tory government came in on the promise that they would do something about this. I think most people will be shocked to learn the government is trying to stop country-of-origin labelling for processed meat, while saying the opposite in public. This will further undermine the public’s trust in the processed food industry.”

The report from Brussels, published in December, was launched to assess whether origin labelling on processed meat products, currently voluntary, should become mandatory. At present, only origin labelling on fresh meats is compulsory under EU law.

The report, issued to member states and the European Parliament, claimed 90% of consumers were interested in origin labelling for meat used as an ingredient. However, the report did add origin labels ranked behind price and quality in terms of the most important factors affecting consumer choice.

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By GlobalData

A spokesperson for the Commission told just-food such a scheme was “doable to an extent but would have a cost”. 

The European Parliament is likely to share its thoughts on the findings “in the coming weeks”, the Commission spokesperson said. He added it was “too early to say if a change of legislation will happen in the coming months”.

Under EU rules, the European Commission proposes legislation, and European Parliament and member states within the Council of Ministers must agree.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told just-food enforcing such a regulation would “impose huge costs to businesses which would inevitably be passed on to consumers – and could put the price of food by up to 50%”.

She said the absence of origin labels would have “no impact on food safety”. She insisted with most processed food labelling providing country of origin information voluntarily anyway, ministers felt it “unnecessary” to push for mandatory labelling.

“We will continue to work with industry to ensure consumers are protected,” she added.