There were 422 votes in favour of mandatory labelling and 159 against with 68 abstentions. Although non-binding, the result sends a strong signal - once again - to the Commission that it is acting out of sync with many politicians on the issue.
However, after listening to the debate Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told MEPs it was "not considering any legislative follow-up," a response that was dismissed by MEP for the European United Left, Lynn Boylan, on social media.
But European consumer rights organisation still wants to see action. “We now count on the Commission to take heed of today’s vote and finally endorse mandatory origin labels on those types of food,” said Ilaria Passarani, the organisation's head of food and health.
COOL: Cost versus clarity
Industry group FoodDrinkEurope expressed “regret” and “strong concern” over the result of the vote. Small and medium businesses, which make up 99% of the European food industry, and companies located next to borders would be impacted most, it said.
“Furthermore, real difficulties exist when trying to draw a line between what is ‘lightly processed’ and what is not, given the complexity and diversity of food products and processes,” it said in a statement.
“Mandatory origin labelling would ultimately have a negative impact on the competitiveness of European companies. Forcing companies to provide the country of origin of ingredients in processed foods would require production lines and batches to be differentiated according to country; this would reduce the flexibility to buy from different sources, would make supply chains less efficient, make production more costly and create more food waste.”
FoodDrinkEurope’s concerns were reiterated by the European People’s Party (EPP) which dismissed demands for mandatory labelling as both unrealistic and populist.
It also said the demands were “clearly protectionist”.
“British politicians have been complaining for a long time about the fact that a large part of their breakfast bacon actually comes from Denmark. It is wrong for this House to support 'buy national' pleas mixed with false information about the alleged urgent interest of consumers in country-of-origin labelling."
Let people support local
But according to UK MEP Glenis Wilmott and member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, protectionism simply means supporting local farmers.
Addressing her follow MEPs during a parliamentary debate she said: “This is about clear honest labelling which doesn’t mislead consumers. It would allow consumers to make informed decisions about the food they buy for a variety of reasons – environmental, animal welfare and, yes, to support their local farmers if that’s what they want to do. It should be their choice.”
She added mandatory labelling would also be positive for the food industry by helping to restore consumer confidence which has been badly damaged in recent times.
The EPP said that manufacturers can choose to add this information on a voluntary basis, meaning consumer demands for both choice and affordable products can be met. "Consumers really interested in local food can already buy products with voluntary labels, with national or even regional indications of origin," it said in a statement published on its website.
A divided bloc?
Under the current EU regulation on food information to consumers, member states are allowed to introduce additional national mandatory labelling particulars for specific food categories - including on indication of origin - if they are justified on grounds of the protection of public health or consumers, among other issues and France has plans to do just that.
Italy and Portugal are also considering similar legislation.
But concerns have been expressed about a situation where some countries have mandatory labelling and others don’t would create two classes of consumer within the bloc, those who can choose and those who cannot.
Origin labelling is already mandatory for member states for unprocessed meat.