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Testing times for European meat producers

Alyn Smith MEP has called on the European Commission to come forward with urgent and thorough legislative proposals for a mandatory system of country-of-origin labelling for meat products, including supermarket own-brand products.

The MEP's call comes in the wake of the discovery of horsemeat in burgers and, potentially, lasagne, and reports that meat labelled halal included traces of pork.

Mr Smith, a member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, said: "Incidents such as the horsemeat saga, and the reports of halal produce containing pork, work to undermine the faith of EU consumers in the safety of the food chain and strengthen calls for more robust, precise and a compulsory method of food labelling which clearly identifies the origin of the product."

Mr Smith will find he is pushing against an open door on this issue as a whole raft of initiatives are now under discussion.

Tonio Borg, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, is already working on a study into the implications of new rules that will be published early next year.

Here in the UK, Food Standards Agency (FSA) officials are developing a new DNA testing system for meat products.

Talks this week saw the agency and the food industry agree a standardised sampling and testing system that will meet accredited standards and test to an agreed level of DNA.

That move follows on from the announcement by Tesco 10 days ago that it is introducing a comprehensive system of DNA testing across its meat products which would identify any deviation from its "high standards".

Costing between £400 and £500 for each test, a programme of unannounced checks once a year on every meat supplier will cost the retail giant anything between £1 million and £2m a year.

Nick Allen, director with Eblex (the organisation representing English beef and lamb levy payers), said DNA testing was an expensive process which could add significant costs to the UK meat supply chain.

Evidence from the US and Canada, where some retailers are already deploying DNA testing, shows it has the potential to add 2%-3% in costs to the supply chain.

Many farmers will conclude that this a small price to pay for consumers to have confidence in the integrity of meat products.

l The annual Bank of Scotland Agricultural Report found confidence among farmers was at its second highest in the 17-year history of the research in spite of poor weather affecting profits.

Craig Wilson sold 163 store heifers at Ayr yesterday to a top of 230p per kg and an average of 198.2p, while 257 store beef-bred bullocks peaked at 250p and levelled at 204.3p.

Forty Friesian and Ayrshire store bullocks averaged 152.3p.

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