William Simpson, managing director of Simpsons Foods, told FoodProductionDaily.com that his company would have to overhaul the entire way it sourced some ingredients if European Union plans to extend COOL regulations were introduced.
Last week, MEPs voted to expand this obligation from just beef and some other products to all meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. They also decided that country of origin would have to be specified for all meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed foods.
The Manchester-based firm, which manufactures 200 different recipes with over 250 main ingredients, said the potential number of labelling permutations that would be triggered by the legislation would make its current way of working almost impossible.
Taking the example of its Irish Stew, the food company chief said there could be at least 25 label permutations for the meat content –which has 10 per cent beef and mutton - unless the regulation stipulated that firms could use statements such as ‘origin of meat will vary’ or ‘meat sourced from EU, Brazil, New Zealand, Namibia, South Africa’.
If origin of vegetables – which is the major ingredient at 37 per cent - were also required there could be thousands of label permutations for one product, he added.
“There is insufficient space on the tin to inkjet print the country of origin of beef and mutton in addition to the production code and best before date,” said Simpson. “Under these circumstances flexible sourcing of ingredients would not be possible, supply could be disrupted and costs would inevitably rise.”
The medium-sized food manufacturer, with an annual turnover of £12m, said it would have to buy its meat from one source “come what may” which may prove more expensive. Such costs would inevitably be passed to consumers.
The cost issue related to labelling would otherwise become a significant one with the potential to be hit financially if labels were rendered inaccurate because the company had been forced to change to a supplier from a different country.
“Ordering labels in quantities of less than 50,000 is problematic,” said Simpson. “We also use retort pouches which are more expensive. We would therefore look to change the way we source ingredients such as meat to avoid these problems.”
The risk to the business would also be in potential recall costs for incorrectly labelled product- where the first £25,000 of any recall incident is uninsured, he added.
The system would also be difficult and very costly to enforce as he said he was unaware of any test that could establish the origin of meat in a tin of Irish stew sufficiently accurately to satisfy a court of law. He questioned if authorities would have the manpower to run a system where all production records would need to be checked to verify the origin of ingredients used was as stated on the label for any particular production date.
He said companies already keep records relating to traceability and qualities – which are inspected by customers such as large supermarkets as well as regulatory bodies – and questioned the need for yet more bureaucracy.
“We are already struggling under the burdens of red tape. Adding this would be a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Simpson. “I support the need for labelling information on health grounds such as listing allergens but don’t believe someone eating a can of stew of a chicken tikka wants to know where the meat came from.”