The European Union has introduced restrictive standards at every stage of beef production, and thanks to the implementation of the universal possibility of verifying the origin of the meat product, it has provided consumers with a tool to make more responsible choices. The growing awareness of what we put in the shopping trolley directly translates into a greater interest in high-quality products. EU regulations are closely related to the implementation of the European Green Deal policy through the “Farm to fork” program. Its task is to ensure animal welfare, respect for the natural environment and supply the market with easily accessible high-quality meat.
Maintaining high standards requires an efficiently functioning management system. Uniform standards, introduced in all EU Member States, have created a large network of reliable meat producers.
Factors that influence the quality of beef include the genetic (breed), environmental and nutritional aspects of the livestock. It is important to properly handle the carcasses during transport, slaughter and subsequent processing, because keeping transparent documentation throughout the entire production and veterinary care process is the basis for approving beef for sale. On the initiative of the European Union, regulations conditioned by the “farm to fork” strategy were introduced to make the food industry even more effective and even better organized. It obliges to meet the requirement of maintaining full transparency of information about the origin of the meat product. This means that every consumer has easy access to information about the origin of a given piece of meat, which is on the packaging.
There is a growing public interest in the conditions under which food is produced. In order to strengthen their position on the market, producers undergo external verification in order to obtain obligatory or voluntary certificates.
HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) – System of Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points for Food Safety
HACCP is a legally required system in the food industry. Its task is to minimize the risk of products that do not comply with the principles of production hygiene appearing in stores and the lack of transparent documentation. The analysis of potential threats and their elimination through the implementation of the HACCP system provides clear information for the buyer that the product has been manufactured in accordance with the regulations. It is also a sign that the conditions in a given plant producing, processing or distributing meat have been thoroughly assessed by external authorities.
IFS (International Food Standard) and BRC (British Retail Consortium) Global Food Safety Standard
The IFS certificate is issued, among others, on the basis of a properly operating HACCP system. These are voluntary systems and they concern the maintenance of international requirements among private labels in a wide range of industries. IFS was created to unify the quality management system and standardize the checklist and assessment points. Food companies with the IFS Food certificate variant increase their credibility among contractors, customers and suppliers. In addition, the fulfilment of the conditions for obtaining it proves that a given producer complies with the European nutrition law. Another system that determines the high class of a food plant is BRC. As in the case of IFS Food, to apply for it, it is necessary to implement the HACCP system beforehand and carry out strictly documented control of production processes. BRC is particularly important for companies dealing with food handling, packaging, processing, storage and distribution.
This certificate is a distinction of producers who take special care of the quality of the meat from their plants. A beef product with QMP meets the requirements for the selection of breeds, the crossing of which gives high-quality raw material. In order to obtain QMP, the breeder is obliged to follow strict rules regarding cattle welfare. These include, among others, providing cattle with free-range barns. Stress or deprivation of the possibility of natural behaviour affect the quality of the final product. Beef produced in the QMP system is not frozen or injected. Its fragility, smell and colour result only from the strict selection and obligations that a certified producer must fulfil.
- GAP – Good Agricultural Practice
The European Union is aware of the climate threats currently faced by the world. Therefore, a set of standards has been introduced to protect the natural environment. Compliance with them is voluntary for livestock farmers, but having the GAP certificate proves that the producer values a sustainable approach to ecology.
GAP standards cover all stages of production, starting from securing cattle health. Good Practice also includes the principles of sustainable cattle breeding and the rational use of fertilizers to minimize their negative impact on the environment. The certificate can be obtained by producer groups and individual farms involved in production. The requirement to introduce GAP is to have a quality management system that meets the parameters specified in Good Agricultural Practice.
GHP (Good Hygienic Practice) and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice)
GHP and GMP are at the heart of creating the HACCP system in every meat processing plant. The purpose of their implementation is to maintain proper hygiene of the working environment in a company from the food industry. Good Hygiene Practice includes the provision of functional infrastructure and technological facilities. Effective cleaning of equipment and proper disposal of waste and sewage also constitute integral parts of it. Employees should be thoroughly trained in health and safety rules and required to provide up-to-date medical certificates for sanitary and epidemiological purposes. Compliance with Good Manufacturing Practice minimizes the risk of hazards related to the condition of the carcasses. This requires the ongoing assessment of the quality of the raw material at every stage of the production process, and its parameters must comply with the adopted EU standards.
EU Quality Systems
The European Union, in line with its “farm to fork” strategy, is turning to organic farming. This created the need for additional labelling to facilitate the identification of products from biodynamic farms. The Green Leaf Quality System is one of the most recognizable symbols confirming this. Green Leaf products are becoming more and more popular. They are usually produced in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner.
The European Union supports local producers and helps protect the brand they are building. The dissemination of the unique features of traditional products results from the cultural richness of Europe. To distinguish regional origin or reliance on specialist knowledge, the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) was created. When buying such a product, the consumer gets verified information about the geographical location where all the production stages took place. Unlike the PDO, the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is designed to protect the name and reputation of a product from a specific area where at least one of the stages of its production takes place. The EU has introduced the GTS (Guaranteed Traditional Specialty) label in order to take care of products produced with the use of customary methods, which are often combined with a multi-generational custom. It indicates that the producer uses local raw materials and a traditional recipe.
Standards applicable to all EU Member States define the parameters that must be met by meat and its products in order to ensure the transparency of this industry. Information technology-based identification is one of the pillars of overseeing compliance with standards throughout the supply chain. Aspects such as the conditions of cattle breeding, the use of only EU approved feed ingredients, and the care for animal welfare throughout the entire husbandry process, up to slaughter, are subject to control. It is also essential to maintain the hygiene rules at all stages of the production of the finished product – in accordance with the HACCP system. The regulations introduced by the EU also apply to storage and processing plants in order to maintain the high quality of meat sold in stores. Each of the possible abuses in the above ranges in the EU requires alerting RASFF (Early Warning System for Food and Feed). Its task is to identify and neutralize the hazard as quickly as possible. In the event of such a hazard, individual official food control units are required to inform the public immediately. Hazard managers at European and national level use the scientific advice of one of the member bodies of RASFF – EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) to continuously improve rules, control methods and meat quality monitoring programs to avoid similar situations.
It is not without reason that the European Union is one of the world leaders in beef production. Transparent requirements for certification and production processes directly affect the high quality of this type of meat in Europe. “Quality beef” is a complex concept consisting of many factors. Standards unifying the rules of conduct for meat processing plants throughout the EU are a European response to the growing needs of various recipients of products from Europe.