Origin labeling, not a priority for the European Commission

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Labeling the origin and provenance of foods, and their primary ingredients, escapes the priorities of the European Commission. The laconic response to a parliamentary question, exactly one year after the launch of the Farm to Fork strategy, confirms its frivolity. (1)

Stella Kyriakides-the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety-is also laconic about the origin of 4 million euros rained on her bank account. This is not the Europe we want. Brief notes to follow.

Food origin labeling, Question to the EU Parliament.

On 17.3.21 Swedish MEP Peter Lundgren ( European Conservatives and Reformists political group, ECR) submitted a Question to the European Commission with a request for a written answer. (2) Object, Country-of-origin labeling.

Country of origin labeling currently applies to honey, fruits, vegetables, fish, beef and unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. It also applies to olive oil, wine, eggs and liquor. Farm to Fork strategy indicates it wants to expand food origin labeling‘.

The Strasbourg broadside

However, it is unclear what other products will be subject to these obligations, nor what the label should look like. The ‘origin labeling of products creates more jobs and raises costs, which gave rise to the idea of marking products as being of EU and non-EU origin. The reasons are obvious, but this approach is not shared in Parliament or in the member states, as it completely defeats the objectives of origin labeling and does not allow consumers to know where products come from.’

Former tennis champion Peter Lundgren’s broadside to the Brussels wordsmiths is dry. ‘What other products does the Commission think should be covered by origin labeling?

Brussels’ response

On 5/21/21 the European Commission, through the voice of Stella Kyriakides, answered the above parliamentary question with its usual vagueness. (3) Enough to confirm how unfortunately it is always Big Food that deals the cards in Brussels (when not the
Big 4
, as far as agrotoxics and new GMOs are concerned).

In its initial impact assessment (4), the Commission announced that it would consider extending mandatory origin labeling

– To milk and milk used as an ingredient,

– To the meat used as an ingredient,

– To rabbit and game,

– to rice,

– To the durum wheat used in pasta,

– potatoes and

– to tomato used in some tomato products‘.

Indication of origin for half a dozen food ingredients.

Milk and meat used as ingredients in other products on closer inspection had already been the subject of previous consultations, under the Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker. So are unprocessed and single-ingredient processed foods, i.e., with one significant ingredient (>50%). European consumers had expressed in all of the above cases a desire to know the origin of the ingredients, but the usual insiders had convinced the European executive that the costs would be too high. The Juncker Commission thus did nothing, despite several resolutions of the European Parliament. (5)

The discourse is being revived today-10 years after the Food Information Regulation (EU reg. 1169/11)-by recalling only, and perhaps half a dozen ingredients. Besides meat and milk, only durum wheat in pasta (not also eggs, soft wheat, or other pure grains and legumes used), potatoes among unprocessed foods, and rice and canned tomatoes among those with primary ingredient. Neglecting theorigin of grains and legumes in other products, among too many of unknown origin. Rabbit and game but not horse meat as well, forgetting the Horsegate scandal (2013).

Origin Planet Earth ?

‘The Commission also outlined in its initial impact assessment the different geographic levels of origin information that will be evaluated as different policy options. One policy option is the provision of information at the EU/non-EU level. The other policy options are providing information at the national level, at the regional level, or a mix of the previous options.’ (3)

This adds to the risk of a replication of the OPT (Planet Earth Origin) criterion, already introduced by the Commission in reg. EU 2018/775 with an excess of power not even opposed by the agricultural confederations. (6) What else does ‘EU, non-EU‘ mean, if not yet another mockery of agribusiness production chains rooted in different territories?

Impact assessment?

The commissioner was quick to take care not to worry the agribusiness giants. Specifying that Brusselswill ‘assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of all policy options on consumers, food business operators, member states and the internal market before making a proposal.’ (3)

The script appears already written. Origin Planet Earth is the option that best suits the globalization of the exploitation of environmental resources, rights and labor that animates the economy of the few corporations to whose sole interest politics is distorted. And it is therefore that ‘the impact assessment will consider any costs or burdens that may arise.’

#EatORIGINal, Unmask your food

What ‘costs and burdens’, on the other hand, may result from the continued silence about who, where, and under what conditions produced our food? What opportunities are being denied to farmers and processors in the territories close to places of consumption, still forced to suffer the drug of price in competition with global exploiters? And why persist in denying the right of European consumers to make informed purchasing choices, in vain preached by the European legislature itself in Regulation (EU) No. 1169/11?

#EatORIGINal! Unmask your food – the European consumer initiative registered by the European Commission on 19.9.18 (7) – reportedly collected 1.1 million signatures in 7 countries in 12 months, according to proponents. (8) Just enough, according to the appropriate regulation, to oblige the European Commission to respond to the people’s initiative.(9) The initiative, trumpeted as a great success by Coldiretti (whose then president Roberto Moncalvo was its representative), however, had no follow-up. Either of two things, either the signatures collected are lower than those stated, or the Commission has failed to examine the initiative. (10)

From transparency to oblivion, in the noisy silence of all

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) The most colossal bluff of the Farm to Fork strategy, concerns the promise to have the organic system reach 25 percent of the UAA (Utilized Agricultural Area) in the European Union by 2030. V. Dario Dongo, Giulia Orsi. Agriculture in EU-27 scenario report 2020-2030. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 12.1.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/agricoltura-in-ue-27-relazione-di-scenario-2020-2030

(2) European Parliament. Question E-001470/2021, with request for written answer, by Peter Lundgren (ECR, SV). 17.3.21.
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-001470_EN.html

(3) European Commission. Response to Question E-001470/2021. 5/21/21, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-001470-ASW_EN.html

(4) European Commission. Food labeling – revision of rules on information provided to consumers. Public consultation report 23.12.20-4.2.21.
https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12749-Revision-of-food-information-to-consumers

(5) See previous articles https://www.foodagriculturerequirements.com/approfondimenti_1/etichettatura-d-origine-prosegue-il-dibattito-tra-commissione-e-parlamento-europeo, https://www.foodagriculturerequirements.com/approfondimenti_1/origine-del-latte-le-risoluzione-di-strasburgo

(6) Dario Dongo. Primary ingredient origin, reg. EU 2018/775. Call for action. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 5/30/18, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/origine-ingrediente-primario-reg-ue-2018-775-call-for-action

(7) Commission Decision (EU) 2018/1304 of September 19, 2018 on the citizens’ initiative entitled “Eat ORIGINal! Unmask your food!” [C(2018) 6054]. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/IT/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32018D1304

(8) Dario Dongo. EatORIGINal! Kicking off transparency on origin and beyond on labels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10/14/19, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/eatoriginal-al-via-la-trasparenza-su-origine-e-non-solo-in-etichetta

(9) Reg. EU 211/2011, concerning the citizens’ initiative. Consolidated text as of 1.1.20 at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/IT/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32011R0211&qid=1622320498648

(10) The European Commission’s website dedicated to the European Citizens’ Initiative, on the page dedicated to #EatORIGINal! Unmask your food indicates only that the signature collection has ended. Without even referring to the number of total signatures collected (see https://europa.e u/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2018/000006_en)

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