The UK government has agreed that the consequences of the European Commission stance on Desinewed meat (DSM) have been serious for industry but said it had “no alternative course of action” and handled the matter “appropriately” under the circumstances.
It said there was 'no reason' to expect that such immediate action would be required to the findings of a Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) audit to avoid such severe safeguard measures.
Responses were issued by the UK government to 12 recommendations made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s (EFRA) report on DSM.
The government response follows an enquiry by MPs into circumstances surrounding the DSM moratorium, which is a delay or suspension of a law, after the European Commission requested the UK comply with EU legislation.
Issue of moratorium
The government said it decided to implement a moratorium to signal that the UK did not agree with the Commission’s interpretation of the legislation and that the position they were forced into was temporary and subject to further policy discussion by the Commission and Member States.
“We particularly regret that the Commission’s decision to request action on the part of the UK to comply with its interpretation of the EU legislation within five working days, under threat of safeguard measures, was taken by the Commission at a time when productive discussions on the definition of mechanically separated meat (MSM) were ongoing between the Commission and Member States.”
The response said any other course of action would have required the removal of MSM, minced meat, meat products and preparations from the market, with a total retails value of at least £2.9bn, excluding MSM, according to a Mintel report.
EFRA had proposed possible legal action against the commission but the government said it will “reflect on legal advice…and consider the outcome of ongoing litigation…” before making a decision.
In response to EFRA concerns that this could happen again, the report said: “It is not possible for government to offer an absolute guarantee that such an incident will not happen again.
“This issue essentially occurred because the Commission took precipitate action over its disagreement with the UK’s interpretation of EU legislation, despite being well aware of that interpretation for a number of years.”
The EU request related to the production of DSM from cattle, sheep and goats by the end of April this year or risk a ban on the export of UK meat products.
DSM could still be produced from poultry and pig bones but from the end of May but must be classed and specifically labels as Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM).
EFSA will publish an opinion on DSM by the end of March 2013 and the government said it would “press the Commission to re-open discussions on the definition of MSM at Working Group level as soon as possible”.
DSM is manufactured using a low pressure technique to remove meat from bones.
The MSM missions to Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands will take place between September and November this year.