- François-Xavier Branthôme
Italy suggests four distinct place-of-origin indications
At the end of June, Italian professional organizations and companies working in the processing tomato sector reacted in large numbers to state their support for the introduction of compulsory place-of-origin labeling on products.
The Pomodoro Da Industria Nord Italia IO stated that it is "extremely favorable to the introduction of compulsory place-of-origin indications on labels within Europe for the processing tomato sector, and remains available to take part in a voluntary labeling pilot project. Such a measure would be fundamental for protecting "made in Italy" products, and an extra guarantee for consumers as well as an important acknowledgment of the excellent quality produced by the industrial sector of northern Italy." These were the words of Tiberio Rabboni, the current president of the Pomodoro da Industria Nord Italia IO, when he commented on the discussions held on 28 June by the Agricultural Committee of the Chamber of Parliament on the topic of place-of-origin labeling.
The IO has requested the introduction, at the European level, of an obligation to state the country of origin of the agricultural raw materials used in products, with several labeling options being left to the discretion of producers:
- "One single European country of origin" if all the raw materials originated in one single country.
- "Originating from within the EU" when the agricultural raw materials come from more than one country of the EU, but only from those countries.
- "Originating from outside the EU" when even a small proportion of the raw material comes from a country that is not part of the EU.
- "One single non-EU country of origin" when the raw material comes from a specific country outside of the EU.
The Pomodoro IO wants to see "the implementation of a large-scale experiment for voluntary country-of-origin labeling on packaging that also focuses on the distinctive values of "made in Italy" tomato products, in collaboration and with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture. The aim is to raise awareness among consumers and the Italian public, as well as within Europe, and to demonstrate to European authorities how appropriate it is to require place-of-origin labeling as demanded by the Italian industry.
The industry within the constituency of the Pomodoro Nord Italia IO already benefits from complete traceability and can trace back to the origin of each tomato entering a processing plant. Such transparency would allow operators to explicitly indicate on the label the origin of raw materials used to manufacture finished products being distributed to consumers."
The industry is undervalued and overlooked
According to Tiberio Rabboni, adopting this measure would satisfy consumer expectations for information, and above all would enhance the value of product raw materials in terms of marketing, whatever they may be, to the advantage of each grower and producer.
"We are convinced, added the president of the IO, that the country's production of processing tomatoes is currently undervalued and underpaid on the market, and that a better acknowledgment on the part of consumers could favor a fairer competitive positioning. For example, few people know that 96% of the tomatoes grown in northern Italy are cultivated according to integrated production techniques that only make use of a very restricted list of agrochemical inputs, a list that is updated each year with product references that have less and less impact on the environment, the crops and the population – and that the remaining 4% are produced according to organic cultivation techniques.
Furthermore, few people know that drip irrigation is largely used throughout the country – and this is particularly significant at a time when water supplies are difficult – with a system that guarantees the correct implementation of water resources by the plant, avoiding wastage. In addition, processing plants are virtually all equipped with individual waste-water purification installations, and the operations involved in washing the tomatoes use water that is recycled several times within a closed circuit, with processors increasingly calling on renewable energy sources and using economic and efficient energy-saving systems. The industry in northern Italy was the first to conduct and conclude a study of the environmental impact of its products throughout their life cycle.
All of these measures have been undertaken in the context of transparency in relationships between growers and processors, framed by the generalized use of written contracts for factory sourcing, based on compliance with payment deadlines, contractual clauses and workers' rights. All of these qualities could be communicated more efficiently and have their value enhanced through the new compulsory labeling of the place-of-origin program."
Place-of-origin labeling is a priority
Maurizio Gardini, the president of Conserve Italia and ConfCooperative, stated his "firm and energetic support for the need to reach as quickly as possible an agreement on Community-wide legislation that will introduce compulsory place-of-origin labeling for tomato products."
"Tomatoes are one of the most important sectors for the Italian food industry in terms of quantity and turnover, but its prestige is unfortunately tarnished by accusations of lack of transparency, and by problems linked to the increasingly common phenomenon of counterfeit products and raw materials imported from abroad."
For Mr. Gardini, "there is no other solution for improving the tomato industry in Italy than to focus on its distinctive values, which are based on the quality of the agricultural products used. This is why we are entirely favorable to the introduction throughout Europe of compulsory place-of-origin labeling for products, in order to provide consumers with the information they need to purchase products in an enlightened manner."
For several years, Conserve Italia has voluntarily included the mention "100% Italian tomatoes" on all Cirio and Valfrutta products. "It is not an accident if the reference to this undeniable value, highlighted on our packaging, has allowed us to virtually double our sales abroad," explained President Gardini. While waiting for the Community-wide adoption of legislation that already exists within Italy (by ministerial decision taken in 2006), Conserve Italia has stated its "willingness to comply with any experimental projects for voluntary place-of-origin labeling", notably with the proposal put forward a few days earlier by the President of the IO, Mr. Tiberio Rabboni.
The ANICAV has also expressed its complete agreement with the resolutions presented by the Agriculture Commission of the Chamber of Parliament on 28 June with regard to place-of-origin labeling for tomato products.
"In order to put an end to the speculations and disagreements of recent years, declared the General director of the ANICAV, Giovanni De Angelis, the tomato processing industry is fully supportive of plans to extend to all tomato products the obligation to indicate the place-of-origin of raw materials on the product label, in order to provide consumers with greater transparency as to the country or region where the tomatoes have been grown and processed, as is already the case for passata produced in Italy. This is why on 13 May, members of the ANICAV approved directives regarding the labeling of place-of-origin for tomato-based products. »
Source: OI Pomodoro Nord Italia, ConfCooperative, ANICAV