According to the decree, manufacturers will have to indicate the source of the raw material used in dairy products such as milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt, as well as the country of packaging and country of processing.
The announcement was made by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at a meeting organised by Italy’s agricultural and farmers association, Coldiretti, in Milan this Tuesday.
"It's called [an] inter-ministerial decree for the origin labelling for milk and processed products," he said. "This document has already been signed and brought to Brussels on Monday. [It] is not a promise […] - not words but deeds.”
Minister of Agriculture, Maurizio Martina, said it was a “historic step” for producers and farmers in crisis across Europe while Coldiretti president Roberto Moncalvo called it "a historic achievement for farmers and consumers”.
Moncalvo added that half of Italian consumers are willing to pay up to 20% more for dairy products that are ‘Made in Italy’.
Meanwhile, a statement made on the Coldiretti website said the decree will protect 120,000 jobs in the Italian dairy sector which is worth €28 billion - a figure that makes dairy products the most important Italian agrifood product not only from an economic standpoint but also in terms of the ‘Made in Italy’ image, it said.
As the European Commission refuses to legislate on mandatory origin labelling - citing figures from reports which find it would increase manufacturing costs to the point consumers would not be willing to pay -member states have been exercising their rights to bring in national measures.
EU regulation on food information to consumers allows member states to introduce additional 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.
The Italian decree still needs the approval of the Commission but in March this year France got the green light for its draft decree to make origin labelling mandatory on lightly processed dairy and meat products.
Made in Italy
In cases where the product has been sourced, processed and packaged in the same country, the origin may be indicated using a single sentence, such as ‘Milk origin: Italy’.
If the processing and packaging takes places in different countries the following phrases may be used: 'Milk origin: EU countries and/or non-EU countries'.
Foods that have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status will be exempt from the origin labelling requirements. Italy is the leading EU country for PDO and PGI foods with 49 protected cheeses alone.
According to a 2013 Eurobarometer survey, 90% of EU respondents said it is important the origin of meat used in processed food products is labelled, while 84% are in favour of mandatory origin labelling for milk, whether sold as such or used as an ingredient in dairy products.