Made in Italy on the label for 1 in 4 products. But what does it mean?


Made in Italy label. Only Italian ingredients, 100% Italian, product of Italy. Or the Italian flag prominently displayed on the packaging. Claims attesting to the Italian character of foods are becoming increasingly popular. Indelible sign of consumer preferences, which are increasingly oriented toward buying food and beverages made in Italy. But it is good to be able to distinguish the true meaning of such statements.

Made in Italy on labels, one in four

According to research published in July 2017 by GS1Italy and Nielsen, of the 41,000 food products surveyed, one out of four explicitly recalls the Italian nature of production. A growing trend for the past three years. In 2016, the market for foods so labeled grew by 2.3 percent to a value of 5.5 billion euros.

Made in Italy, the reasons for a choice

Underlying consumer preferences (and the consequent adjustment of supply) are various considerations. Food safety, first of all, which is considered better in Italy than in other countries, thanks to a system of public and veterinary controls that is unique in the world.

The awareness of contributing to the national economy through purchases of Italian products has in turn improved. And it is combined with a desire to support proximity economies (zero km, typical local products), as well as to defend Italian agri-food traditions and biodiversity.

Made in, when the obligation is triggered

In principle-according to European and international rules (1)-label indication of origin is optional for the generality of food products. Except for the cases of:

– presence of news, including trademarks or graphic representations, in product labeling and advertising, suggestive of an origin other than the actual origin. For example, a food product that recalls an idea of Italian-ness, even if only in the brand name(Italian sounding), and yet is not made in Italy, must specify the actual country of origin on the label (example Made in Germany),

– foods that belong to categories covered by specific legislation.

Made in, the protected categories

Current rules require that the origin of the food and/or its raw materials be indicated only in relation to certain categories of products.

1) in the EU, origin is prescribed on:

– fruit and vegetables,

– organic farming products,

– PDO (Protected Designation of Origin),

– PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), when the specification constrains the use of local raw materials,

– wines (DOCG, DOC, IGT, and now also PDO and PGI) and alcoholic beverages (e.g., grappa) covered by recognized geographical indications,

– fresh seafood products,

– honey,

– eggs,

– virgin and extra virgin olive oil,

– Meat (beef, pork, sheep, goat, poultry). Fresh, frozen, and deep-frozen. With the absurd exclusion of meat preparations.

2) In Italy, the origin of raw materials should also be indicated on:

– tomato purees,

– milk, sold as such or used in dairy products.

Made in Italy, what it means

According to international criteria (2), if a product has been made in more than one territory, its origin is attributed to the one where the last substantial processing took place. This applies to motor vehicles (and so Ducati and Ferrari are understood to be Made in Italy even though they are assembled with materials and components of foreign origin) and all other goods, including foodstuffs.

It follows that the mere claim of the Made in Italy – outside of only those cases in which the origin of the raw material is bound to a territory (e.g., PDO) or is otherwise subject to mandatory indication (e.g., meat at the supermarket)-is only valid to express that the so-called ‘last substantial processing’ took place in Italy.

This is news that is always important, indeed crucial, because processed product in Italy is better guaranteed than many others on the food safety and quality fronts. And its conscious purchase contributes to the economy of the Belpaese, that is, to GDP and employment, as well as to the maintenance of agrifood supply chains rooted in tradition.

However, the news of the ‘place of assembly’ alone is not enough to express an integrated supply chain from primary agricultural production. And it is therefore that the most authentic meaning of Made in Italy is expressed in foods that can also boast the national origin of raw materials. Obviously where this is possible (not in the case of coffee or cocoa, for example).

The trick lurks in the rules system, which allows foreign pistachios to be cited as Italian only because they are shelled in Italy or orange juice from Brazilian concentrate only because it is diluted in the Peninsula. On closer inspection, this should be prevented, based on EU Regulation 1169/11, which requires the different origin of the primary ingredient to be specified on the label whenever boasting of the product’s origin is made. And yet the European Commission, subservient to Big food lobbyists, has wilfully failed to implement the relevant requirement. As it should have done instead by December 13, 2013.

Next steps

On rice and pasta labels, the Italian government has planned to extend mandatory indication of origin. In light of EU Regulation 1169/11, there are no glimpses of problems on the origin of rice, while the measure on pasta has some critical issues. And yet, perhaps in the throes of summer madness, Ministers Martina and Calenda decided to sign the relevant measures without waiting for the proper green light from the European Commission.

Theindication of the origin of meat in restaurants-and more generally in all public establishments, as well as in canteens (company, school, hospital)-has been called for by many parties. To ensure transparency of consumer information while enhancing the value of Italian animal husbandry. But Minister Maurizio Martina, beyond a note of appreciation of the Padua Charter, has not yet followed up on the solicitation he received.

Dario Dongo and Marta Strinati


(1) reg. EU 1169/11 (Food Information Regulation), Codex Alimentarius Standard for Food Labelling

(2) reg. EU 952/2013 (EU Customs Code), WTO agreement


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

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".