An Italian tribunal approved on 22 November the decrees signed by the ministries of agriculture and of economic development to include the country of origin of cereals on rice and pasta labels. The move was welcomed by Coldiretti, Italy’s largest farmers union, but worried the European Commission and pasta makers.
Aidepi, a trade association representing more than 20 pasta producers including world-giant Barilla, sought to suspend the decrees which, from February 2018, will require them to include the origin of durum wheat on the label. But an Italian tribunal rejected their claims, arguing that “consumers’ interest should have precedence.”
“Our action has been interpreted as a sign that pasta producers don’t want more transparency. But this is not the case”, an Aidepi spokesperson told EURACTIV.com
Italy is the largest pasta producer in the world. It produces around 3.4 million tonnes of pasta per year and exports a half of it. Every year Italian pasta factories consume 6 tonnes of durum wheat but Italy only produces 4 tonnes, meaning it has to import an additional 2 tonnes.
And not all Italian wheat qualifies to become pasta: since a law passed in 1957, it needs to meet detailed requirements on colour, grain size, protein and gluten content, and so on. And 30% of Italian wheat does not meet these standards, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Italian pasta makers are bound by law to ensure high quality and need imports to do so but at the same time feel they’re being sanctioned by a law that reinforces false stereotypes.
“The only way to save Italian agriculture is to focus on quality. To say that wheat is Italian does not necessarily mean it is of high quality,” Aidepi said.
But the Italian identity is so tightly bound with food, and pasta in particular, that any action to protect the “made in Italy” brand – even if ill-advised – will gain traction.
The EU directive on food information to consumers allows producers to voluntarily introduce the country or place of origin of certain food categories. The Commission favours this non-binding approach because it does not excessively burden producers, EURACTIV understands.
Yet it allowed certain member states, including Italy, France, Spain, Greece, to “pilot test” the requirement to include the origin of meat and milk products. These schemes are temporary and should serve the Commission as a testing grounds to “assess whether there is need to explore any new policy development on the matter, taking into account the added value of the provisions for the consumers,” a spokesperson told EURACTIV.com.
But Italy went a step further, deciding to impose new labelling rules on pasta, rice, and tomato-based products – without notifying the Commission, as requested by EU law.
“The Commission is concerned and is expecting further information from the Italian authorities regarding the new laws,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.
The Italian Minister of Agriculture Maurizio Martina is on a one-man crusade to protect “made-in-Italy” products – which he presents as an effort to make farmers’ voice heard in Brussels.
“Let’s go ahead to protect Italian productions and to enhance the origin of raw materials. Now we want an EU law,” he tweeted after the tribunal upheld his decrees.
Tar del Lazio non sospende il nostro decreto grano/pasta e conferma diritto dei consumatori a massima trasparenza informazioni in #etichetta. Andiamo avanti a tutela delle produzioni italiane e per valorizzare l'origine delle materie prime. Ora norma Ue https://t.co/8PSBTptE3z pic.twitter.com/ujiBMbOJLZ
— Maurizio Martina (@maumartina) November 22, 2017