EU agriculture ministers have voted to introduce compulsory labelling for beef from September 1 2000 ­ two years ahead of the original date. MAFF minister of state Joyce Quin welcomed the decision but she said the UK already has a beef monitoring system which "is the safest in the EU". She added: "Compulsory labelling will ensure that beef described as being of British origin is indeed British and that beef of other origin is clearly labelled as such." The EU ministers' decision was also given the thumbs up by UK slaughterhouse St Merryn Meats, one of only two UK abattoirs with a licence to handle meat for export. It recently reopened trade deals with Holland. Procurement manager John Dracup said he welcomed the legislation which would "safeguard the interests of UK consumers, especially with regard to the traceability of the meat which they buy". From September, all EU member states will have to label beef products with the approval numbers of the slaughterhouse and de-boning hall, as well as the country of origin and the slaughter date. And the system will be reinforced from September 2001 when labels will also have to include information on where the animal was born, fattened and slaughtered. However, before the proposal becomes law it has to be passed by the EU Parliament. A decision on the labelling of minced meat has yet to be reached. l EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler has accused the Irish beef industry of harbouring a cartel undermining the EU beef industry. Fishchler said he has never found "an adequate explanation for the farm gate price differential between Irish cattle prices and those prevailing on continental Europe". And he said he found it regrettable the situation had resulted in a direct confrontation between farmers and industry. {{NEWS }}