EatORIGINal! Transparency on origin and beyond on labels kicks in

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EatORIGINal! Unmask your food! The European People’s Initiative-which aims to obtain mandatory indication of origin on the labels of all food products-has reached its first milestone. 1.1 million signatures collected in 7 member countries. The commission now has the task of reviewing the regulatory proposal. Let’s see how.

EatORIGINal! Unmask your food

The European citizens’ initiative EatORIGINal! Unmask your food!, as noted had been registered by the European Commission on 2.10.18. Within the next 12 months, it was to collect at least 1 million signatures in 7 member countries. And the goal was far exceeded, with 100,000 extra signatures. Thanks to the efforts of all those, among whom we are proud to include ourselves, who have been fighting for years to achieve transparency on labels.

Coldiretti deserves credit for conceiving and formalizing the initiative, which was also supported with the symbolic contribution of 20 thousand euros. But more importantly, to have promoted it throughout Europe, through www.eatoriginal.eu and social networks. As well as through an extraordinary network of contacts that made it possible to achieve this first important result.

The European Commission, following the definition of this first stage, will now have to make a reasoned decision on the matter. Within the next three months, the Brussels institution must decide whether to follow up on the regulatory proposal or shelve it. And one can only expect a positive response, foreshadowing otherwise a vehement popular reaction. From the agricultural supply chains, but also from the processing and distribution companies established in Europe, which in recent years have been able to grasp the growing interest of consumAtors in transparency on the label.

The occasion will be useful, among other things, to better ensure food traceability. Which, it should be recalled, is to this day entrusted to de minimis rules, which in recent years have not been enough to mitigate the rising tide of food fraud in Europe.

Origin labeling, the proposal of European citizens

TheEuropean citizens’ demandis clear and simple, leaving no room for ambiguity or compromise of any kind. ‘We call on the European Commission to impose mandatory origin declaration for all food products in order to prevent fraud, protect public health and guarantee consumers’ right to information.’

The main goals of the proposal meet those sacrosanct demands for transparency in labeling that have been called for for years. Without having received any feedback from previous commissioners, subservient to Big Food‘s orders. Therefore, the following rules are requested to be introduced:

mandatory indication of the country of origin for all food, processed and unprocessed, placed on the domestic market. With no exceptions, neither for registered trademarks nor geographical indications. We must put an end, once and for all, to the unacceptable exemptions introduced with the Planet Earth Origin‘ regulation,(1)

mandatory indication of origin of main ingredients, in processed foods, if it is different from the origin of the final product. The requirement to report the origin of the raw materials of the main ingredients should also be clarified in this regard, to prevent, for example, the origin of wheat(e.g., Canada) from being concealed by indication of the origin of semolina (e.g., Italy, in the case of Canadian wheat milled in the Bel Paese).

Transparent labels, what else is missing?

Europeans then call for ‘harmonizing information on production and processing methods to ensure effective transparency throughout the food chain.’ The concepts to be clarified and subjected to harmonized rules, on closer inspection, are different:

  • sustainable agriculture‘, ‘integrated pest management. One, none and a hundred thousand. Practices vary, controls are latent, and pesticide consumption data do not add up. How to measure stated ‘sustainability’? And how to reconcile the interests of non-organic farmers with the needs of civil society?

  • peasant agriculture
    is another concept that deserves special framing. Enhancing agroecology, including in its valuable variations of social relevance (e.g., social farms, educational farms, urban gardens, urban beekeeping),

  • -‘Short supply chain
    , again, is a variable content concept that deserves shared codification. So that values related to fair and sustainable, possibly organic, supply chains can be expressed without ambiguity and misunderstanding,

  • – -‘natur

    ale


    , ‘artisanal’, ‘ vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’
    , in turn, are terms often misused under the banner of ambiguity, (2)

  • blockchain
    . The new frontier of fraud and unfair trade practices-to the detriment of both supply chain operators and consumers-is the promise of hypothetical guarantees via blockchain. Except to verify that in many cases the systems used have nothing to do with the real blockchain, being instead mere private databases. (3)

On uncompromising transparency, full speed ahead!

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) See reg. EU 2018/775, effective 1.4.20. See previous articles https://www.foodagriculturerequirements.com/archivio-notizie/domande-e-risposte/origine-materie-prime-reg-ue-2018-775-risponde-l-avvocato-dario-dongo, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/marchi-origine-prodotto-e-ingrediente-primario

(2) The misuse of the term ‘natural’ on the label was the subject of a recent class action against Twinings. See the article https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/puro-e-100-naturale-con-glifosato-consumatori-usa-contro-twinings

(3) For a better understanding of what a true blockchain means, see https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/wiise-chain-la-vera-blockchain-made-in-italy-a-costi-competitivi

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.