Italy’s labelling bill slammed as backdoor protectionism

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

The proposed law has been welcomed for protecting products that are made in Italy  - but detractors say Italian lawmakers are trying to sneak through mandatory COOL labelling.
The proposed law has been welcomed for protecting products that are made in Italy - but detractors say Italian lawmakers are trying to sneak through mandatory COOL labelling.

Related tags: European union

An Italian bill will require companies to say where a product was produced and packaged, meaning greater transparency for consumers, says government - but industry has slammed it as backdoor protectionism that violates EU law.

Voted through by the Italian Council of Ministers, the draft bill applied to food manufactured or packed in Italy, but not food that was sold in Italy but manufactured or packed elsewhere. 

A press release from the Italian Ministry of agriculture, food and forestry said the bill would give greater protection to consumer health.

Speaking in Italian​, minister Maurizio Martina said: "Today is an important step that confirms the will of the government to give clarity and transparency to the consumer on the factory production of food. We will continue our struggle in Europe, because a more complete label starts with the designation of the food source.”

Martina said an online public consultation last year found that 90% of the 26,000 Italian respondents said they wanted to see such information displayed on food labels. Roberto Moncalvo, president of agricultural organisation Coldetti welcomed the bill, saying it would prevent foreign goods being passed off as ‘Made in Italy’.

made in italy for web

But food law expert and managing director of Hylobates Consulting, Luca Bucchini questioned whether consumers would really be in a position to make better informed choices.

Food businesses [will be] de facto forced to disclose whether a product was made in Italy, in the hope that consumers will discriminate against other EU food products. [But] under this provision, companies will be able to make a reference to an Italian factory, even if a very minor production step was performed in Italy or if the product was simply packed in Italy - consumers will not be able to tell,” ​he told FoodNavigator.

“Consumers will be able to tell if a product by two different brands - possibly a more expensive or a less expensive brand - went through the same factory; some believe that this means the products would have the same quality. However, the same factory may use very different recipes or raw materials for similar final products.”

Bucchini also said the law would mean less flexibility for food businesses to switch manufacturing sites, and that they be forced to reveal information on third party manufacturers to competitors.

A backdoor burden

Meanwhile, industry trade group FoodDrinkEurope slammed the proposal. “[It] seems to be yet another attempt to introduce a form of mandatory country of origin labelling via the backdoor, giving rise to protectionist trends,” ​a spokesperson said.

“The proposed mandatory requirement could create a competitive disadvantage and a burden for companies as it, being unique in Europe, only applies to food produced and sold in Italy. In addition, it is very doubtful whether the proposed requirement is actually contributing to better consumer health, as is claimed by the authorities, as the EU has a solid system in place for ensuring food safety.”

The bill also went against the EU’s Food Information Council’s regulation of 2014 which standardised the information manufacturers were required to put on labels.

And since EU law had primacy over national law in cases of conflict, the European Commission could take legal action against Italy - something it has already done in the past, said Bucchini.  

The draft bill will now be put to the Italian Parliament where it is expected to be passed, while a notification of the bill has been sent to the European Commission for approval.

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