Food industry upset over obligatory labelling of origin of pasta and rice

The origin of the primary ingredient will have to be declared on the label starting from February 2018. [PosiNote/Shutterstock]

Italy’s decision to impose mandatory labelling on pasta and rice packaging has triggered protests from the food industry, which has called on the European Commission to cancel the measure.

Pasta and rice packaging will have to include the origin of durum wheat and rice, the Italian ministries of agriculture and economic development decided.

The two decrees – one for rice and one for durum wheat – were published on 16 and 17 August, establishing the duty to declare the origin of the cereals on the label.

Producers have 180 days to adapt to the new system and to dispose of labels and packaging before the labelling policy enters into force on 16 February 2018.

Italian Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina said the policy was “aimed at achieving maximum transparency for the consumer, strengthen protection for producers and value chains for two key products of the Made in Italy brand. We will push this approach to see it replicated at EU level.”

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The decrees, the ministries said, anticipate the European regulation on food information to consumers.

The move was welcomed by Italy’s farmers’ union, Coldiretti, who contend that one in three pasta packages and one in four rice packages sold with the label “made in Italy” are made with imported cereals, deceiving consumers over the origin of the product.

Italian farmers have also claimed that the EU’s Everything But Arms trade arrangement, which allows tax-free access to EU markets for all states on the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) except arms and ammunition, has negatively affected the domestic rice market as it increased the importation of rice from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Italy demands origin labels for pasta and rice

All packets of pasta and rice sold in Italy will have to include labels of origin showing where the produce was grown, the government ruled on Thursday (20 July), in a move it said was aimed at protecting local farmers.

Disrupting the single market

FoodDrinkEurope, which represents the European food and drink industry, reacted strongly to Italy’s move and called on the EU executive to take immediate action against it.

According to the industry body, such a move could jeopardise the EU single market. They also criticised the fact that Rome passed the legislation without prior notification at EU level.

“Aside from the circumvention of established EU procedures, this will negatively affect the competitiveness of the relevant food sectors, undermine the smooth functioning of the single market, and hamper intra-EU and international trade,” a FoodDrinkEurope spokesperson told EURACTIV.com.

Commission not notified

Contacted by EURACTIV, a European Commission spokesperson confirmed that the executive was not notified regarding the decrees.

“Commission services are in the process of gathering the relevant information and facts from the Italian authorities regarding the adoption of the national legislation concerned,” the official noted, adding that once all the relevant information has been acquired, the executive can decide on the next steps.

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The spokesperson explained that according to the regulation on food information to consumers, where the origin of a food is given and is not the same as that of its primary ingredient, the origin of this ingredient must also be given or must be indicated as being different to that of the food.

“The application of this provision is subject to implementing rules. The implementing rules are planned to be adopted by the Commission in the second half of 2017,” the official emphasised.

An ‘al dente’ rebuttal

Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina replied: “We are ready to face the Commission as Brussels already knows. But to be clear, it is the EU’s choice not to proceed in a timely manner to the full implementation of the 1169 Regulation on labelling. ”

“For too long Brussels avoided to choose and to decide on this strategic point. We respect European choices and are ready to make a useful contribution, but we have no intention being halted any further,” he added.

“From February we will be experimenting the origin in grain and rice label as we did for milk. When we made this choice, of course, we have evaluated all the consequences, including the open discussion within the Community.”