RPT-Germany, France to push for stricter EU meat labels

Thu Feb 21, 2013 12:08pm EST

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* Berlin, Paris have deal on compulsory label on meat dishes

* Call follows EU-wide horsemeat scandal

* Investigations into horsemeat fraud ongoing in France

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Michael Hogan

PARIS/HAMBURG, Feb 21 (Reuters) - France and Germany will push for compulsory labelling of the origin of meat used in processed food in a bid to avoid a repeat of a scandal that burst after horsemeat was found instead of beef in products around the bloc, ministers said on Thursday.

The scandal, which has triggered recalls of ready meals and damaged confidence in Europe's vast food industry, erupted last month when tests carried out in Ireland revealed that some beef products contained horsemeat.

"Germany and France are in agreement: We want origin labelling - and as fast as possible and compulsory in all 27 countries of the EU," German farm minister Ilse Aigner said in an advance release of an interview with German newspaper Passauer Neuen Presse for Friday publication.

Separately, in Paris, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said the two countries would try to find a deal on meat traceability at a meeting of European farm ministers next Monday in Brussels.

Although EU legislation imposes traceability and labelling of the origin of meat, it does not apply to processed food.

European Union Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said last week the Commission would speed up work on potential changes to EU labelling rules that would require companies to state the country of origin on processed meat products.

"The EU Commission has agreed to accelerate work so that the main preparations for the new labelling can be completed this year," Aigner said.

But French Consumer Minister Benoit Hamon stressed that the battle was not an easy one.

"There is resistance. Some countries are not keen at all to see the origin of the meat appear -- some countries like Nordic countries -- so we will have to build a compromise," he said.

Until a compulsory EU law is put in place France called on the industry to adopt voluntary labelling to reassure consumers at a meeting with representatives of the meat sector at the farm ministry on Thursday.

France is home to the main company accused of knowingly defrauded customers and consumers by selling them horsemeat labelled as beef, Spanghero, although the company denied any wrongdoing.

Investigations to determine how horsemeat ended up in ready meals sold across Europe homed in on Spanghero, but further probes are under way in other countries and other firms in the supply chain, including France, Hamon said.

"First results will come in soon and they could show, I'm saying this conditionally, that there is not only one chain concerned by this switch to horsemeat instead of beef," he said. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg; editing by Keiron Henderson)

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