LONDON – Under new EU food labeling rules set to become law, European consumers must be told where most of their meat comes from on the label, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. On July 6, Euro-Members of Parliament backed the wide-ranging rules in a vote.

At the present time, EU beef exhibits country-of-origin labeling, but the plan is to extend that to poultry, pork and lamb. A standard label including information about energy content, fats, sugar and salt is set to become mandatory for pre-packed food sold throughout the EU.

Although health concerns have fueled Europe's drive to improve its food labeling, these new labeling rules were under discussion long before the recent German E. coli outbreak.

According to plan, nutritional data must be grouped in tabular form on the packaging and expressed per 100g or per 100ml. Once the European Commission has defined portion sizes, food companies can also include Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) – which is a system already used a lot -- or use the term "per portion."

The legislation allows food businesses a maximum of five years to switch to the new labels.

At present in addition to beef, the country of origin has to be marked on current packs of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, olive oil and honey.

Although MEPs also wanted the country of origin to be marked on dairy, produce and processed meat. such as sausages and ready meals, EU ministers rejected that proposal.

The major exemptions from the mandatory labeling system will be for small-scale traditional producers and for fresh produce that is not pre-packed. EU negotiators determined small-scale producers should not have to be saddled with the additional administrative cost of adopting the new labels.