MEPs Inch toward Country-of-Origin Labelling Requirements for Food

17 March 2010

The European Union moved one step closer to country-of-origin food labelling after a vote in the European Parliament's Environment and Consumer Protection Committee on Tuesday.

The committee members approved a report requiring clear country of origin labelling on meat, poultry, dairy, fresh fruit and vegetables and other single-ingredient foods. The committee also voted to require the labelling on processed foods that use meat, poultry and fish as ingredients.

The vote was part of a larger discussion that concluded on 16 March after 18 months of debate on the subject of clearer, more informative food labels. After nearly 800 amendments, the report passed, concluding that food labels ought to provide information on energy content and nutritional value, and that they must be easy to understand and not misleading in order to help consumers make more informed dietary regulations.

However, the committee rejected a segment of the report that proposed a universal EU ‘traffic light' system for nutritional information. MEPs were in agreement that the regulation should give only general guidelines on the display of such data and that it should allow EU member states to maintain their own labelling systems, assuming that they are in line with the new requirement.

The UK-based National Farmers Union celebrated the new ruling after its "sustained lobbying" of Brussels, but NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said that there were still more battles to fight. "There is still a long way to go, and I'm sure the change to labelling rules will be challenged strongly by others in the EU," he commented.

The NFU intends to keep pushing the issue in the European Parliament. "It is clear the current guidelines aren't working, so it's essential that we try and keep country of origin labelling high on the agenda," said Mike Thomas, a spokesman for the NFU.

"People buying meat and dairy products want to know where the animal was reared so they know exactly what they are getting," Thomas said. "We believe there is no reason why mandatory country of origin labelling should not be extended to the remaining sectors as well as to the main ingredients of semi-processed foods."

On Tuesday at a hearing of a High Level Expert Group on the EU's dairy sector, leaders of the EU farming industry also called for clearer EU marketing, labelling and quality standards.

"EU dairy farmers have to comply with some of the highest requirements in the world...By clearly distinguishing their products in the marketplace, they can reap the benefits of these stringent requirements," said Pekka Pesonen, Secretary General of Copa-Cogeca in a press release. He described any EU measures to promote EU dairy products on both the EU and world markets as "vital."

The committee's labelling proposal will be put to a vote before the entire European Parliament in late May and if passed will then go on to the Council of the EU before it returns to the European Parliament for a second round of debate.

ICTSD reporting; "Country of Origin Labelling a Step Closer," FARMERS GUARDIAN, 17 March 2010; "EU Food Labels Should Be Easier to Understand, Give More Information - MEPs," THE SOFIA ECHO, 17 March 2010.

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