"…the transparency of consumer information is a crucial point for our production system model"
The legislation has been extended to all categories of tomato products
On 21 October, the Italian press announced that the Italian Minister of Agricultural Policy, Maurizio Martina, and his counterpart in charge of Economic Development, Carlo Calenda, had signed an interministerial decree introducing the obligation of place-of-origin labeling on tomato products. These measures include trials for this labeling system over two years, in compliance with the rules already applied for milk products, pasta and rice.
Whereas until now, the legislation only concerned tomato sauces, this decree now also applies to all other tomato products, like canned tomatoes and pastes, as well as sauces containing at least 50% tomato. It stipulates that the packaging of tomato products must now state the name of the country of origin of the raw materials as well as the name of the country where the tomatoes were processed. If the various manufacturing stages of the product were carried out in several different countries, expressions such as "EU countries", "non-EU countries", or "EU and non-EU countries" can be used, and should be used. The statement "Italian origin" can only be used if the raw materials come from Italy and have also been processed within Italian borders.
Place-of-origin indications must be featured on the label in an obvious place, and within a single visual field in order to be easily recognizable, clearly readable and indelible. These measures include a period of adaptation for companies to get used to the new system and make use of all labels and packaging already manufactured.
This Italian decree will become obsolete after implementation of its European-level equivalent, Article 26 paragraph 3 of EU regulation n°1169/2011, which is awaiting adoption of the executory decrees by the European Commission. “As I have told the European commissioner Andriukaitis, we believe that this choice should be extended at a European level, guaranteeing the full implementation of the European Regulation 1169 of 2011. The issue of the transparency of consumer information is a crucial point for the production system model we want to support," said Minister Martina.
Professional organizations are satisfied
"We consider that this measure represents an extra protection for consumers and an added value for Italian growers in the North of the country who will benefit from enhanced certification and quality recognition for their 'made in Italy' production" stated Tiberio Rabboni, President of the IO Pomodoro Industria in northern Italy. "Now, considering that two thirds of the crop in northern Italy end up on the export market, we hope to see this Italian decree encourage the European Union to also regulate the requirements for place-of-origin labeling."»
The Anicav association of food processors, in the words of its General Director Giovanni De Angelis, insisted on the fact that the implementation of the new decree would “put an end to the sterile and instrumental speculation our industry has undergone and continues to undergo with the legend of Chinese tomato on Italian tables. Despite the need for homogenization between national and European regulations, an intervention on Regulation (EU) N° 1169/2011 is in order to avoid that the rule is only applied on Italian territory, as it is already the case for tomato sauce.”»
For the Coldiretti growers' organization, this should limit the practice of importing, processing and marketing tomato pastes of foreign origins with the notice "Made in Italy", which until now has only been required to indicate the country where the product was conditioned or packaged, with no need to mention the country of origin of the raw materials or the country where the product was processed.
As for the cooperative sector, represented by the Alleanza Cooperative Agroalimentari and its president Giorgio Mercuri, it welcomed these measures whilst pointing out that controls need to be reinforced in order to guarantee the quality and safety of products, as well as compliance with labor laws, in a food industry where law-abiding companies rub shoulders with hardened criminals who bypass controls and penalties.
Debate on Italy's place-of-origin law
However, this legislation, which affects all categories of processed food and drink made or packed in Italy, has been described as "backdoor protectionism" and “simply inapplicable” by critics and stakeholders across the food, beverage and nutrition sectors.
A spokesperson for Nestle said the legislation will not affect its products produced in Italy. But the company opposes mandatory origin labeling in principle. "The single market is one of the EU's greatest achievements. A well-functioning single market stimulates competition, enhances efficiency, and helps cut prices," the spokesperson said, while "national measures on mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) make food supply chains less efficient, create unnecessary food waste, further encourage protectionism and fragment the EU single market, negatively affecting intra EU trade”.
A food law specialist further commented: "Italian officers should ignore this piece of law, [as] they are bound to act within the law, and it is well established that EU law enjoys supremacy. Moreover, the way it was adopted means it is, according to European Court of justice (ECJ) case law, simply inapplicable. […] Authorities, if they apply this piece of legislation, may face serial reversals in court, with crippling legal fees across cases. But most food businesses will be cowed into “compliance” for fear of a rather hefty fine and of products being seized." Fines could be around EUR 15 000.
Trade association SpiritsEurope said it would result in additional costs and logistical complexities. “That can hardly make sense when the whole ethos of the internal market is to remove barriers to free movement between member states."»