Italy’s lawmakers have in the past attempted to push through measures they feel will protect native manufacturers and producers.
New proposals laid out last week by the country’s Ministry for Economic Development would make labels indicating the address of an Italian factory where a food product was either manufactured or packaged mandatory in any case where this would apply. Manufacturers failing to specify required details could face a fine of up to €18,000.
Products displaying no such label after this would thus indicate the product came from outside Italy.
When in Rome…
Current EU regulation under the Food Information for Consumers (FIC) legislation stipulates that country of origin labelling (COOL) is only required on products for which an omission would be misleading. For example, ‘Belgian chocolates’ made in Ukraine would need clarification.
However, the proposed Italian legislation would override EU level rules.
Luca Bucchini, a food law expert and managing director of Hylobates Consulting said: “Italy intends to force Italian brands to say if they manufacture in other European countries - or to include a needless packaging step in Italy to circumvent the proposed law (which was the case under older Italian rules that expired with the new EU regulation in 2014). The packaging step is a ruse and would not count under EU origin rules.”
Italian politicians have backed the move largely because public opinion favours such a law. An online consultation of 26,000 Italians in 2015 showed over 90% of respondents wanted to see packaging or manufacturing information for Italian products.
However, Bucchini said the move would violate European law and likely damage the Italian economy: “It is wrong mainly because it is designed to undermine the rule of law. It sends the message that businesses should heed the requests of Roman politicians and not the law. The transition period is short on purpose so that businesses which have complied with EU law but are ignoring orders from Rome will have to suffer high costs by recalling products and remaking labels.”
Bucchini blamed the developments on rising nationalist sentiment in the EU and increasing regional power over Brussels. He pointed to a recent EC report that officials in Brussels declined to release, which recommended sanctions against the Italian government for its mistreatment of the Roma community. The EC is increasingly scared of challenging its governments, and the labelling issue is a result, Bucchini said.
“With strong Eurosceptic parties and elections, the EC has decided to put political priorities over policing the single market.”
Although believing the EC would eventually decide against the proposal, Bucchini said it was a "close call as politics is involved" and that regardless of the outcome, "it may still scare businesses into compliance - that's the aim".
A recent QueChoisir study also showed that COOL measures can often be very ineffective – French rules requiring processed meat and dairy products to display COOL often lacked the obligatory labelling.
FoodDrinkEurope agreed the measures would have a negative impact. Florence Ranson, communications director, told FoodNavigator: “As a pan-European industry, we of course favour European solutions rather than national initiatives which as a rule generate obstacles. The Italian proposal goes beyond what is foreseen by European legislation and we doubt whether it is necessary since EU law already requires to indicate the name or business and address of the responsible food business operator.
"It also risks generating additional costs and burdens for food business operators, including the possibility for the additional label to be perceived as an indication of origin, which would then trigger the obligation to also provide the origin of the primary ingredient(s) of the food. Finally, although the Italian decree includes a mutual recognition clause (i.e. it does not apply to products legally manufactured or marketed in other countries), it may set a precedent for the adoption of other national measures, with negative consequences for the single market.”
The EC now has three months in which to reply to the proposal.