Myth: The livelihood of small traders and their products, as well as national, regional and indeed local specialities (including UK sausages, shepherds pie and steak and kidney pie) will be threatened by EC Health Directives on the marketing of fresh meat, minced meat and meat products that have just come into force with the arrival of the Single Market. Are the Commission and national Governments simply structuring policy to the advantage of large commercial enterprises?
Response: Before 1.1.1993 the Community’s meat market was divided into national markets, which were governed by very different health rules. The coming into effect of the Single Market had therefore to be accompanied by the harmonisation of these rules and these could only be envisaged if high standards could be respected and maintained as regards hygiene and quality, methods of production and consumption, storage, packaging and transportation. This is the ultimate aim of the directives. It must at this point be pointed out that this legislation applies to operations carried out before the final sale to the consumer; therefore retailers (ie. butchers, restaurants and pubs) are not in any way affected. Moreover, Community legislation provides for the specific protection of traditional or local products that depend on either a special method of production or a particular region of origin.
Nevertheless it cannnot be denied that the high standards legislated for in these hygiene directives have caused and still are causing problems for the smaller businesses in the meat industry. Slaughterhouses in particular have been experiencing difficulties. On account of this special derogations have been included which will allow small businesses to supply their local markets and to grant them longer periods to adapt to the Community requirements with a view to obtaining an authorisation valid throughout the Single Market. This period has just been extended to the end of 1994.
The Community-wide marketing of meat products is regulated throughout the entire chain of production – ie. from the slaughterhouse to the finished product. And consumers in the UK are safe as food coming into the UK has to conform to Community-wide standards. At the same time local and traditional fare is specifically being safeguarded.
The essential elements of Community policy in the field of meat are described below in further detail:
1. The new regulations apply, on the one hand, to fresh beef, pork, goat, sheep, lamb and soliped meat (essential horse meat), and on the other to fresh poultry. Specific regulations also apply for game. Community directives cover:
(a) the treatment and cutting up of meat in slaughterhouses catrasses, half and quarter carcasses, boneless meat and offal).
(b) minced meat, meat in pieces of less than 100 grammes and meat in preparation for direct human consumption or for the processing industry.
(c) meat products.
2. The common principle of all these directives is:
(a) to subject all meats destined for marketing within the Single Market to hygiene inspections.
(b) to grant licences only to establishments which meet the specific requirements on (for instance):
– the characteristics of the premisis;
– the provision of separate quarters for certain operations involving special hygiene care such as the evisceration of or cleaning of pigs;
– the maintenance of low temperatures in the cutting rooms;
– the existence of adequate refrigerated storage rooms;
– the respect of hygiene standards by employees;
– checks on the biological controls carried out on the products, etc.
The animal’s health must be regularly checked before and after slaughtering. The cutting and processing rooms must also be inspected at regular intervals. Licensed establishments may have their licence suspended or withdrawn in cases of serious and prolonged hygiene deficiencies. Vetinary experts from the European Commission make sure that the directives are uniformly applied in all Member States.
3. The directive on fresh meat (bovine animals and pigs) has resulted in the reorganisation and modernisation of a certain number of slaughterhouses. Yet these operations are sometimes difficult to achieve and too expensive. Slaughterhouses established before 3.12.1991 and which deal with a maximum of 12 Livestock Units (known as U.G.B.: Unite de gros betail) per year and a maximum of 600 UGB per year may obtain a special licence, conditional on the fulfilment of a certain number of less stringent critteria to sell to non-packaged fresh or processed meat to their local markets (a bovine animal corresponds to I UGB, a pig to 0.33 UGB and a sheep to 0.15 UGB). This derogation has been extended to slightly bigger slaughterhouses, ie. those dealing with up to 20 UGB per week and 1,000 UGB per year,, provided they:
– are located in regions with special geographical disadvantages;
– have started the programme of reorganisation before 1.7.1991.
Nonetheless in order to minimise the difficulties encountered because of this deadline (originally at the end of 1992), now 31.12.1994.
4. Because of the nature of minced meat, cut meat and meat preparations, a specific directive stipulates the special requrements which must be met by the licensed establishments before they can sell their products to the consumer or to industry within the Single Market. First of all, these establishments may only deal with fresh meat originating from Community-licensed slaughterhouses. Secondly, the premisis must comply with precise measurements, for example the meat can only be produced at specified temperatures (12C for production, 2C for storage of refrigerated meat, 12C for frozen meat, 19C for chilled meat). Finally the meat must be subjected to constant biological controls under the supervision of an official vetinary officer.
The inter-Community trade of minced meat made from poultry, horse meat or meat containing offal remains, to date, ruled out. The adoption of a Commission proposal tabled in February 1990 could put an end to this ban.
5. The third directive lays down similar licensing requirements for establishments producing prepared, smoked, salted, sterilised, marinated, dried meat and meat-based products. The establishments concerned are subjected to specific requirements concerning the organisation of their premises and to regular controls on the cleanliness of the utensils, fittings, machinery of the hygiene of the personnel. Other controls include checks on the micro-biological standards of the products, the storage and transport conditions, and the health marking. Special rules apply for pasteurised or sterilised as well as for pre-cooked products.