Brussels bulletin: A round-up of news and views from the EU

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/artJazz
© GettyImages/artJazz
From calls for legislation on misleading food labels to new appointments at DG Sante, we round up the biggest news from Brussels affecting the food industry this month so far.

No end just yet for "food label tricks"

Three MEPs penned questions to the Commission denouncing manufacturers’ “food label tricks​” and asking whether it would close these loopholes.

Prompted by a report published by consumer rights organisation BEUC ​in June, politicians Lynn Boylan, Dimitrios Papadimoulis and Nicola Caputo gave examples of the kind of practices that manufacturers use.

Boylan wrote: ​[Examples include] foodstuffs with pictures of fruit on the front but having low actual fruit content, or with the more expensive fruit shown on the front of the pack. There are also many cases of products described as ‘natural’, ‘traditional’ or ‘artisanal’ that use industrial ingredients, and products with wholegrain images and descriptions but with low actual wholegrain content.”

The use of such terms and images is legal despite the fact the Food Information to Consumers regulation states that food labelling should not be misleading.

Answering all three politicians at once​ last week, however, commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis firmly closed the door on the possibility of closing these loopholes.

He said provisions currently in place were sufficient and the Commission “[did] not have the intention of proposing a further harmonisation at EU level on the use of terms such as ‘natural’, ‘traditional’ or ‘artisanal’, nor to propose new specific provisions for the labelling of fruit drinks”.

New top brass at DG SANTE

Anne Bucher will take over as Director-General of the Commission’s Health and Food Safety department (DG SANTE) as of 1 October, taking over from Xavier Prats Monné who will retire at the end of September.

Bucher is a French national and has worked at the Commission for 35 years where she has focussed on various policy areas such as economy and finance, development and social policy and taxation.

For the past 10 years, she has been senior manager in the Commission's Directorates-General for Economic Affairs and for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT).

The Commission said Bucher would bring to the position “solid management experience and a broad view of Commission policies in a variety of areas​” which will be essential “at times when effective health and food safety management is interlinked with economy and technology”.​ 

Prats Monné will continue to work with various non-profit education organisations after his retirement.

End the Cage Age

This week saw the Commission register a European Citizens' Initiative called End the Cage Age​.

Organised by non-profit association Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), the initiative states that cages are “cruel and unnecessary” ​because higher-welfare cage-free systems exist and are viable, and it is calling for the EU to ban them.

Hundreds of millions of EU farm animals are kept in cages for most of their lives, causing great suffering. We call on the European Commission to end this inhumane treatment of farm animals,” ​it says.

CIWF wants the Commission to bring in legislation that prohibits the use of cages for laying hens, rabbits, pullets, broiler breeders, layer breeders, quail, ducks and geese; farrowing crates for sows; sow stalls and individual calf pens, in cases where they are not already prohibited.

Officially registered on Tuesday (11 September), the initiative is now open and EU citizens can express their support online. If it gets one million statements of support by 11 September 2019, from at least seven different member states, the Commission will have to react within three months.

The European Citizens' Initiative was brought in as part of the Lisbon Treaty in 2012 in order to give citizens “an agenda-setting tool​”.

In 2017, over one million Europeans used the platform to ask the European Commission to ban glyphosate​ and to ensure all industry-funded studies used to back up regulatory decisions on pesticides are published.

Dual quality

Politicians sent a strong signal to the Commission yesterday that they’ve had enough of dual quality of products across member states, denouncing the practice as “fraud​”, “a criminal offence​” and “insulting to consumers”.

In an overwhelming show of support for Olga Sehnalová’s report, 464 politicians voted in favour of her ​recommendations​​ while just 69 voted against.

The report, which will now go to the Commission for consideration, proposes a number of measures to determine how widespread the phenomenon is as well as ways to tackle it.

MEPs have suggested, for instance, that manufacturers voluntarily add a logo to their products reassuring consumers its composition is the same across member states.

For more on the vote and the report, click here.

Two more protected foods

This month, Europe got two more protected origin food products, with the Commission adding a traditional Spanish sausage and Latvian butter to the EU register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI).

Spain’s Morcilla de Burgos​ is a meat product similar to black pudding. It is made with onions, lard or tallow, rice, blood, spices and salt. According to its official description in the DOOR database, it was first made in the 15th century shortly after the arrival of rice in the Burgos region (Castilla y León), but the first written reference dates back only to 1928.

Latvian Rucavas baltais sviests​ is a butter produced in the Rucava novads region of Latvia, which contains 50% fat and has a slightly acidic flavour. It is traditionally eaten immediately after churning.

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