Consumers will no longer be at risk of buying by mistake textiles that contain real fur or leather after the European Parliament backed new labelling rules yesterday (11 May).
The Parliament's negotiating team, led by Dutch liberal MEP Toine Manders (ALDE), won concessions from member states that will lead to mandatory labelling of fur and leather parts and a feasibility study on origin labelling.
Under the new rules, any use of animal-derived materials will have to be clearly stated on textile product labels.
Fur, for example, is often used to trim cheaper garments, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between real fur and good quality fake varieties.
After yesterday's vote, products containing "non-textile parts of animal origin" must be labelled as such.
EU mulls introducing 'Made In' labels
The decision also means that imported shoes, clothes, leather, furniture, ceramics, high-tech steel and other products worth billions of euros are one step closer to carrying labels that show where they were made when sold in the EU.
The Parliament expects the new rules to ensure that new fibres and innovative products reach the market more quickly.
The European Commission tabled its proposal for a regulation in January 2009. Since then, the Parliament and EU member states have been grappling with the text after MEPs had backed 63 amendments.
Negotiations between MEPs and national diplomats on the legislation were lengthy and highlighted divisions not only between the Parliament and Council as a whole, but also among member states themselves, pitting representatives of countries that have large manufacturing bases against those that mainly import and distribute foreign goods.
Countries including Italy, Spain and Portugal had long pushed for mandatory 'Made In' labels, which they hoped would act as a brake on growing low-cost imports, whether Chinese furniture and roof tiles, Indian clothes or Vietnamese shoes.
Opposing them were distribution-heavy states such as Sweden and Britain, which were concerned about red tape and falling profits and wanted optional labelling to continue.
Yesterday MEPs approved by a show of hands a second-reading agreement on the regulation struck by the Parliament and the Council just before Easter.
Towards an EU-wide labelling system?
The Parliament and member states asked the European Commission to conduct by 30 September 2013 a study on hazardous substances used in textile production to determine whether there is a link between allergic reactions and chemicals like colorings, biocides or nanoparticles.
The EU assembly and the Council also asked the Commission to produce by 2013 a report and potential legislative proposals on a new labelling scheme to give consumers "accurate information on the country of origin and additional information ensuring full traceability of textile products".
Dutch liberal MEP Toine Manders (ALDE), responsible for steering the legislation through the Parliament, said the report and study would focus on "possible harmonisation of sizes and care labels, the use of independent symbols or codes and on new forms of electronic labelling like […] RFID".
"We will be able to modernise and simplify in a few years the necessary information to end users," Manders added.
MEPs had sought to make origin or 'Made In' labels mandatory for textile products imported from third countries. But member states found the idea too controversial and it was dropped pending the outcome of the Commission's study.
The regulation must still be signed into law by member states, but given that the agreement was struck before Easter this is considered a formality and is expected to take place within weeks.
The new rules will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of EU law, but companies will be granted a two-and-a-half year transition period to adapt to the new labelling requirements.