Country of origin labeling: France at the finishing line, Italy still on the starting blocks

18 Jan 2017

Origin of milk and meat appearing on labels in France from January 2017

A new law came into force in France on the first day of the new year and it promises to be a pioneering measure. For the next two years, it will be compulsory to indicate the country of origin of the meat and milk contained in processed food product labels. The initiative applies to products that contain at least 8% meat and 50% milk.

Already at the forefront in the fight against food waste (with Italy hot on its heels), France is now implementing an EC regulation which allows single member states to introduce national legislation on compulsory labeling, if their citizens declare themselves to be in favor.

Italy first promoted the battle on origin labeling when it applied to Brussels for authorization to label milk and its by-products with information about the countries in which they were produced, processed and packaged. But though a decree making origin labeling compulsory for milk and cheese was signed by the Italian minister for agricultural policies, Maurizio Martina, and the minister for economic development, Carlo Calenda, on December 9th 2016, today, more than a month on, the measure has yet to be published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, the official journal of record of the Italian government.

This is important because the longer the decree takes to become official, the longer it will take for compulsory labeling to come into force, and the application of sanctions for any infringements will thus be delayed. In Italy, two-thirds of ham is made from pigs raised abroad, and three-quarters of long-life milk comes from foreign dairy farms, yet to date, it is only compulsory to indicate the origin of fresh milk, with labels failing to specify the country of origin for the milk used in non-PDO cheeses and milk by-products. It is thus possible to buy an “Italian” mozzarella which has been processed with milk or curds from other European countries but without this being specified on the label.

In fact, Italy imports 24 million liters of ‘milk equivalent’ every day, in the form of tankerfuls of milk, semi-finished products, cheeses, curds and casein protein powder, which are then packaged or processed and, unbeknown to consumers, become “Italian” cheeses and “Italian” milk. (source: Coldiretti)

The time has come for Italy and other countries to follow the French example, as requested by 96,5% of the 26,000 citizens who took part in an online public consultation on agricultural and food product labeling conducted by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural Policies.

Slow Food has always stressed the need for greater label transparency. Yet the European Commission continues to ignore the wishes (and common sense) of citizens demanding clear indications of origin on labels. By continuing to opt for a voluntary indication of origin instead of a Community-wide obligation, it is thus privileging the interests of large industrial lobbies over those of consumers.

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