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.
The agriculture and industry ministers signed a decree ordering the new labelling policy, saying it would run in an experimental fashion for two years, and criticising the European Union for not introducing the measure across the 28-nation bloc.
“We are putting Italy in the vanguard of Europe when it comes to labelling as a competitive tool for the Italian (agriculture) sector,” Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina said in a statement.
Italy is the biggest producer of rice in Europe. The land dedicated to cultivation is 234.300 hectares, there are more than 140 varieties of rice and about 1.500.000 tonnes is produced every year. There are more than 4,265 rice companies in the supply chain.
The rice sector has been in crisis since the introduction of the EU’s Everything But Arms trade initiative. Everything but Arms allows imports into the EU from least developed countries tariff free and without quantitative restrictions.
This has given rise to a massive increase in imports of rice from Vietnam and Cambodia resulting in a significant drop in market prices of some varieties of rice and, consequently, a reduction – in 2014 – of the cultivation of certain types of varieties using over 12,000 hectares.
To try and counter the imports producers have been calling for better labelling of foodstuffs containing rice so as to indicate to consumers the true origin of the raw materials. The producers hope that consumers will tend to purchase products with Italian rice rather than imported rice.
The Italian government decree also included that pasta packaging must reveal where the wheat was grown and milled into semolina for pasta-making. Rice packaging will state where the rice was grown, treated and packaged.
Industry Minister Carlo Calenda said most Italian consumers wanted to know the origin of their food, adding that it was important to promote Italian farmers.
“We want to emphasise the importance of ‘Made in Italy’ and the quality of our production in order to compete with greater strength on international markets,” he said in a statement.
Canada flags its concerns
The Canadian government is seeking clarification from Rome and assessing Italy’s trade obligations under the World Trade Organization and free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, a spokesman for Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said. There is no indication that Italy’s move has affected trade yet, he said.
Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, whose members include Cargill Inc and Richardson International, said he expected Italy’s labels to take effect early next year.
“That would unquestionably harm our exports,” he said.
Italy is Canada’s second-biggest durum export market so far in the 2016-17 crop marketing year as of May, importing 676,000 tonnes. The United States is also a significant durum producer.
The EU and Canada have signed a Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), which will provisionally enter into force on 21 September.