Organic food, who checks the labels?

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An organic mountain flax label is worth expressing as an example of something wrong with organic as with other production, of artisan enterprises in particular. With the aggravation, in the case of organic, of the presence of public certification.

Organic is galloping, in Italy and Europe, in modern distribution as well as in traditional niche distribution. The reasons are diverse, understandable and appreciated by many. Undeniable among these is the role of the guarantee offered by a third-party certifying body specially authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Therefore, consumer confidence deserves as much respect, in information on organic products as on conventional ones. All the more so since organic farms, which are often micro-enterprises, should receive support from the certification body in terms of agronomic and legislative know-how. Often, however, this is unfortunately not the case.

Therefore, the label of organic flax that is brought as an example turns out to be emblematic. Where on the reverse side, in order to describe the nutritional properties of an excellent quality product, news is given that seems to be extracted from the bibliography of yesteryear. With a violation of existing rules that is nevertheless so macroscopic as to be grotesque.

The nutrition claim must follow a specific outline, with 7 mandatory elements (1) and the option to add the value of fiber. It is not mandatory for microenterprises, which are still required to do so where nutrition and health-related claims are made. (2)

Nutrition & health claims must in turn meet the criteria defined in the regulation of the same name (3) and its implementing regulation. (4) Consequently, no health claims, for example, can be boasted on the label that-when they are even peaceful in doctrine and bibliography, popular wisdom, or experience of use-have not been authorized by regulation of the European Commission.

Violations of nutrition & health claims rules are already now subject to a special penalty regime. And the approval of the sanctions decree related to EU Regulation 1169/11 is apparently imminent.

The label of which a copy is given deserves no further comment. Except to note that, according to the ancient brocardo, ignorantia legis non excusat. (5) And while it behooves all operators to strive for proper enforcement, it is also advisable for organic certification bodies to perform less superficial checks on the labels they approve.

Looking forward and hoping that ethical responsibility will soon be joined by legal responsibility. Perhaps through new administrative and jurisprudential guidance, pending necessary reforms yet to come.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) Energy (kJ, kcal), fat, of which saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, of which sugars, protein, salt (sodium-equivalent). To refer to the 100 g or ml of product, and on an optional basis also to the portion. With the caution, in that case, to indicate the size of the portions and the number of them contained in the package

(2) Recall the requirement to specify the amount (in absolute value, and as a proportion of the Nutritional Reference Values) of micronutrients covered by any nutritional or health claims

(3) See reg. EC 1924/06 and subsequent amendments

(4) See reg. EU 432/12 and its supplements

(5) This principle has been taken up in the Criminal Code, where ‘No one may plead ignorance of the criminal law as an excuse‘ (Article 5). Ignorance not allowed even for administrative laws (see Law 689/81)

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