Beef labelling: guidance

A guide on the compulsory beef labelling system and the beef labelling scheme (the approval system for other labelling claims) for people and organisations selling beef in Scotland.

Section A: General information

1. What is the beef labelling system?

The beef labelling system is a European Union (EU) system for providing clear, reliable information about beef (including veal). The main purpose of the system is to allow people to trace beef back to where it came from.

2. What are the beef labelling rules?

All fresh or frozen beef (including veal) must be labelled with certain compulsory information (section B). Producers and processors can also apply to use approved labels under our voluntary beef labelling scheme (section D).

3. Who do the rules apply to?

The compulsory beef labelling rules apply to everyone selling fresh or frozen beef or veal, for example, slaughterhouses, cutting plants, repackaging centres, shops, market stalls, supermarkets, butchers and farm shops. Beef labelling rules apply to suppliers of hotels, restaurants and other catering facilities but not to the hotels and restaurants themselves, or any other premises where the beef sold has been cooked and/or additional ingredients added. The rules do not apply to beef sold in the form of processed products (for example, sausages, pies, ready-meals or canned beef) or to sales of live calves or cattle.

4. What type of beef do the rules apply to?

Fresh and frozen beef, including veal, mince, and uncooked beefburger patty with no added ingredients, must meet the labelling rules. Uncooked meat that has been seasoned, beef and veal in processed products, and offal, are not included. If in doubt, please contact the Beef Labelling Section.

5. What is labelling?

Labelling is written information given to customers at the point of sale. This includes information given on packaging material and on labels near the product. It also includes information given in advertisements, websites, posters, announcements and leaflets, or information conveyed by pictures or symbols associated with the product. Information given by word of mouth is not covered, but it is an offence under other legislation to mislead the customer.

6. How should beef be labelled?

Prewrapped meat must be labelled on its packaging. If packages are grouped together and sold in a carton, the information may be shown on the carton rather than the individual packages. For non-prewrapped meat sold to customers, information must be on the meat or displayed in the shop near to the meat. The customer must be able to see exactly what the information refers to. The reference code or codes on display must make sure that the meat can be traced back to its source through your traceability system.

7. What is a traceability system?

This is a manual or computer system containing records linking the animals or beef bought to the reference number or code of the beef sold. All operators in the supply chain must have a traceability system so that beef on sale can be traced back to the original animal or group of animals which it came from, and to prove that the labelling information given to customers throughout the supply chain is correct.

You must have a traceability system. The type of information it should contain depends on the nature of your operation. It should record the arrival and departure of each carcass, part carcass, primal or other cut of meat. Depending on your type of operation, you could record some or all of the following:

  • the date the animal, carcass or cut arrived
  • the supplier
  • delivery note details
  • the date the animal was killed
  • weight
  • UK ear tag, cattle passport number or reference code
  • product (cut)
  • tray number or colour
  • the date placed on the counter

In addition to the above, Commission Regulation ( EC) No. 566/2008 details new labelling rules for all bovine animals aged 12 months or less: (see Section C)

  • category identification letter V or Z (bovine animals aged 12 months or less)
  • date of birth of animal

These should link to:

  • the reference number or code
  • the compulsory labelling about slaughterhouse and cutting plants
  • any approved labelling claims made against sales

8. How are the rules enforced?

Our authorised officers will carry out checks in premises approved by the Food Standards Agency. In all other food businesses, local authorities will carry out the checks to make sure that the rules for compulsory labelling and approved labelling are being followed. You must give these officers access to your premises and to your records. If you have been approved under the beef labelling scheme, you must be able to show the officers a certificate that the product meets the rules, issued by your government-recognised independent verifier as a result of a previous inspection, and your approval document issued by us.

You must not supply inaccurate or misleading information. Unless you have reason to doubt its accuracy, you can assume that the beef labelling information you were given when you bought beef from your suppliers is accurate. If you fail to follow the rules, you will have to remove your beef from sale until the beef or veal is relabelled in line with the rules. If the meat cannot be relabelled because not enough information is available to trace it, you may be allowed to send it on for processing into products. You may also have to take steps to make sure your beef meets the rules. If you break the rules and it is a serious matter, this may be a criminal offence, which could lead to a fine if you are convicted.

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