There is a growing trend in some countries of the European Union, such as Italy, Greece, France, or Lithuania, to have more accurate food labeling. While Italy has recently imposed mandatory labeling on pasta and rice packaging, indicating the origin of wheat and rice’s cultivation, in the majority of EU countries, origin information is largely absent from labeling for milk, dairy products, unprocessed food, and single-ingredient products such as flour or sugar. The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “Eat Original. Unmask Your Food”, which Slow Food supports, calls on the European Commission to impose mandatory declarations of origin for all food products to prevent frauds, protect public health and guarantee consumers’ right to information. The ECI was launched last autumn by the Italian farmers union Coldiretti.
The European Commission reported in 2013 that around 90% of Europeans consider it necessary to indicate the origin of processed foods and meat, while a Eurobarometer survey conducted the same year revealed that 84% of EU citizens found such labeling necessary for milk.
Indicating the country of origin is currently obligatory for certain specific foods such as honey, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh or frozen beef, pork, sheep, goat, and poultry meat. However, there are some derogations, for instance for minced meat, which may simply be labeled as “EU”, “non-EU”, or both “EU and non-EU”. For instance, in a case investigated by the Irish Times, it has been found that many honey labels say “made from a blend of EU and non-EU honeys,” which only informs that the honey might come from anywhere around the world.
A demand for more information regarding the place of origin of food is becoming increasingly important also because of an increased number of cases of food fraud. One of the most famous and recent food fraud scandals erupted in Europe in 2013, when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) reported the presence of horse meat in cheap frozen beef burgers and ready-made meals. Similar cases were soon reported in 13 other EU countries. After an international investigation, the source of the meat was traced back to France. The French suppliers Spanghero have been accused of having sold the meat as “boned beef” that had been cut and prepared in France, while allegedly knowing it was horse meat that had been treated in Romania, Belgium or Canada. The scandal revealed a major breakdown in the traceability of the food supply chain and demonstrated how vulnerable the system is in the absence of the mandatory origin labeling.
In Europe, food fraud is estimated to cause damages worth up to 12 billion Euros per year. The most recent report shows that Italy, along with Spain, had the largest number of reports on food fraud in the EU.
To support the ECI Eat ORIGINal! Unmask Your food, click here
European citizens have a right to propose concrete legal changes in any field where the Commission has the power to propose legislation, such as the environment, agriculture, energy, transport or trade. The ECI has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens, and a minimum number of signatories is required from at least 7 Member States for the Commission to decide whether or not to take action.
Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food Europe