National measures requiring mandatory labelling of origin and provenance for foodstuff are allowed under the EU law but need to be justified, Europe’s highest court has found.
In a ruling on Thursday (1 October), the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) stated that the EU harmonised framework for food labelling “does not preclude member states from adopting measures providing for additional mandatory particulars regarding the origin or provenance.”
The ECJ added that, however, those national measures need to be justified on one or several grounds, including the protection of public health and prevention of food fraud.
The adoption of mandatory origin labelling is possible only if there is a “proven link between certain qualities of the food concerned and their origin of provenance.”
According to the EU judges, the onus is on member states to provide evidence that the majority of consumers attach significant value to the provision of that information
French Council of State asked the ECJ to rule on the case lodged by the company Groupe Lactalis, which sought the annulment of a governmental decree requiring the labelling of the French, European or non-European origin of milk and milk used as an ingredient in pre-packaged foods.
The EU Court was asked to interpret the regulation on the provision of food information to consumers, and in particular, if it authorises member states to adopt national mandatory measures regarding the origin or provenance of milk used as an ingredient.
Several EU countries have recently introduced national measures to specify the origin of certain categories of food such as milk or some main ingredients of food products.
For instance, Italy has already adopted some national schemes to specify the origin of tomatoes used in tomato sauce and durum wheat in pasta.
However, the European Commission has frowned upon any national attempt to regulate on the matter, saying it could fragment the Single Market.
Speaking before EU farming ministers in September, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the adoption of national measures is not the appropriate way to respond to increased demand from consumers to know the origin of the food they buy.
The EU executive is expected to put forward a proposal for a harmonised food labelling scheme in the context of its Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).
A group of EU countries have been leaning on the Commission to include a compulsory origin of food labelling scheme at EU level in its proposal.
The Commission will launch an inception impact assessment this autumn to assess the potential impact an extension of mandatory origin labelling could have on food business operators, and particularly on farmers and consumers.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]