Pasta origin, what labels?

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February 13, 2018, the scheduled date for the implementation of the ‘Pasta Origin Decree’ is approaching. Which requires that the origin of wheat and the country of production of the relevant semolina be indicated on the labels of pasta produced and sold in Italy. With all due respect for the in-certainty of law, which always reigns supreme in Italy, details follow.

Wheat provenance and semolina origin, new labels effective Feb. 13, 2018

Interministerial Decree 26.7.17 comes into effect 180 days after its publication in the Official Gazette. (1) Namely, on 13.2.18. And it will cease to be effective on 31.12.20.

A transitional period is granted to products ‘placed on the market or labeled before‘ February 13, 2018, which can still be marketed-wholesale and retail-until the relevant stocks are exhausted. (2)

Italian pasta labeling, the new rules

The new labels of pasta produced in Italy and placed on the domestic market will have to bear ‘the following wording :

(a) “Wheatgrowing country” means the name of the country where the durum wheat was grown;

(b) “Country ofmilling” means the name of the country in which the durum wheat semolina was obtained’ (DM 26.7.17, Article 2).

In the case of grains grown in several countries, the notice in ‘a’ above may be supplemented ‘with one of the following: “EU,” “non-EU,” “EU and non-EU”‘.

‘Where at least fifty percent of the wheat used was grown in a single country’ to use ‘the words: ‘name of the country’ in which at least fifty percent of the durum wheat was grown ‘and other countries’: ‘EU’, ‘non-EU’, ‘EU and non-EU'” depending on origin’ (Article 3).

As for how to indicate the origin of wheat and semolina, the general criteria for readability of mandatory label information set forth in the Food Information to Consumer Regulation apply. (3) In particular, such indications must come ‘affixed to the label in a prominent place and in the same field of view so as to be easily visible, clearly legible and indelible. They are not in any way hidden, obscured, restricted, or separated from other written or graphic indications or other elements likely to interfere‘. (4)

Accordingly, exact compliance with the (albeit illegitimate and virtually ineffective) decree entails affixing the words ‘Country of wheat cultivation …’ and ‘Country of milling …’ on the label, according to the above criteria. Without being able to admit, conversely, the inclusion of the aforementioned news items within the framework of a broader narrative. (5)

The in-certainty of law

The regulations described above will require a great deal of effort from all industry players, thus industrial and large-scale retail giants but also SMEs and microenterprises. And yet such regulations could lapse prematurely, in the assumptions that in the meantime:

– the European Commission or the WTO force the Italian government to suspend and/or repeal them. Unlikely hypothesis, by tacit agreement of non-interference in the pre-election season,

Brussels finally adopts rules on the indication of origin of the primary ingredient, (6)

the Lazio Regional Administrative Court (TAR), approached by a couple of dozen Italian milling and pasta industries, to adopt a measure suspending the decree or even to advance the timeframe for the decision. Which could lead to a ruling that it is null and void,

the Court of Justice of the EU, called upon by an Italian court (following cross-appeal, in the case of opposition to a dispute report) to rule that the Italian decree is null and void or inapplicable. Since the measure was not notified to Brussels, as it should have been, and is therefore only contrary to European law.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) In OJ General Series 17.8.17 no. 191, at http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/id/2017/08/17/17A05704/sg

(2) See reg. EU 1169/11, Article 13 and Annex IV

(3) See reg. EU 1169/11, Article 13.1, verbatim copied into M.D. 26.6.17, Article 4.2

(4) Thus, it cannot be allowed, for example, that information on wheat and semolina origin is ‘diluted’ into a broader illustration of companies, stories, and products

(5) See DM 26.7.17, Article 7.3

(6) Even if this were to happen, it would still be the date of entry into force of the European standards that would cause the Italian decree to lose its effectiveness (according to DM 26.7.17, Article 7.2). And it is impossible for this circumstance to be realized before the decree itself comes into force