Italy’s fresh challenge to the EU on food labelling


Italy is seeking to reintroduce a requirement to specify the production site on the labels of transformed food products, in fresh defiance of Brussels’ food rules after unilaterally mandating country of origin on pasta and rice labels last August.

Italy first presented the proposal to Brussels in March 2017. The European Commission was supposed to issue an opinion by 2 October, but Italy decided to withdraw the proposal – possibly due to the objections of four member states  – Austria, Germany, Spain and Germany.

According to the Italian press, Italy has now amended the proposal, restricting the category of products and reducing the penalty fees, and submitted it again to Brussels.

The decree seeks to include the site of production on the label of frozen fruits and vegetables, ready-to-eat salads, processed fish products and other processed foods, which had been in place before the EU removed this requirement with regulation 1969/2011.

The latest measure upset the Italian food industry body Federalimentare, which fears it would impose an additional burden to Italian producers and expose them to asymmetrical competition from foreign products who do not have the same requirements.

Italy’s precedents on food labelling

Italy’s first venture into food labelling rules came when the Commission gave its consent to Rome’s requirement for specifying country of origin on milk labels in 2016, which set a precedent.

Italy next notified Brussels of a requirement to put the country of origin on pasta and rice labels. It withdrew the proposal in the face of strong criticism from 11 countries for “fragmenting the internal market”. But last August Italy unilaterally decided to go ahead and publish the decrees, which will enter into force from February 2018, without waiting for Brussels’ green light.

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

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.

Italian food law expert Dario Dongo called such procedures “illegitimate” and “unconstitutional”. Dongo is the founder of FARE, a website on EU policies on food and consumers’ goods.

He said European law takes precedence over national law, hence the pasta and rice decrees are effectively worthless and should not be applied by Italian authorities, according to Dongo.

The eyes are now on the Commission to see how it will react.

“The 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,” a commission spokesperson said.

But it may take a long time for EU sanctions to be applied – quite possibly after Italy’s general elections in 2018. This, speculates Dongo, would allow the agriculture ministry to point at Brussels as the culprit for a self-inflicted mistake, and gain votes from the electorate of anti-EU populist parties like Movement 5 Stars and right-wing Lega-Nord.

What is certain is that disciplinary action from the EU could cost Italy millions of euros, plus the loss caused by retaliatory measures from trade partners. Canada, a major exporter of durum wheat to Europe, already threatened actions through the WTO.



FoodDrinkEurope is the organisation of Europe’s food and drink industry. Our supply and manufacturing chains are largely integrated across the EU, whether for small or large businesses, and so is the intra-EU trade. The free circulation of goods guaranteed by the Single Market is essential to a competitive food industry, to uphold its 4.2 million jobs and its growth ambition.

For a Single Market with a purpose

For a Single Market with a purpose

The EU food and drink industry, the largest manufacturing sector in terms of turnover, value added and employment, is a strong advocate for a real Single Market. To that end, FoodDrinkEurope calls for:

  • High-level political commitment towards the Single Market, leading to a long-term vision
  • Prioritisation of Single Market issues at EU level focusing on a strong, competitive and sustainable supply chain
  • High-level coordination to ensure a relevant regulatory framework to support European industry
  • Improved functioning of mutual recognition in the non-harmonised areas

Read our Manifesto and find out more.

Industry working with farmers

The food and drink industry builds long-term partnerships with Europe’s farmers to secure a local agricultural supply, creates value and develops market opportunities for agricultural products and connects farmers and consumers in the food chain.

Find out more in our latest report.


FoodDrinkEurope aims to play an active role in the Brexit process. Our goal is to ensure the least disruptive outcome for the food and drink sector at large.

Click here to read FoodDrinkEurope's recommendations on the Brexit negotiations.

"Small Scale, Big Impact": Europe"s food and drink SMEs

Out of 289,000 food and drink companies in Europe, 9 in 10 are SMEs. They are present in every region and stand for both tradition and innovation in our industry. They are also at the heart of the Single Market. They may be small in scale, but they are big in impact. They may be small in scale, but they are big in impact.

They may be small in scale, but they are big in impact.

Each of them has a story to tell…

Subscribe to our newsletters


Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.