Italian dairy country of origin labeling comes into force

Italy has introduced country of origin labeling rules for dairy products. Pic: ©iStock/boggy22/ad_krikorian

Italy has introduced mandatory country of origin labeling for dairy products.

The new experimental law means Italian dairy products that include dairy ingredients must list the country of origin.

The Italian government said that without a negative response from the EC, and after hearing from most national agribusiness organizations, it was creating the new ruling, which will remain operational until March 31, 2019.

The new ruling applies to all types of milk (including sheep, donkey, buffalo and goat) and dairy products.

Food items that contain dairy, however, such as pizzas with cheese, or milk chocolate, do not need to follow the new regulations.  However, flavored milk and yogurt, for example, will need to apply the new ruling on labels.

The decree enters into force 90 days after publication, allowing time for companies to phase out older labels; and 180 days for labeled products already on the market.

Consumer approval

Manufacturers will have to indicate the source of the raw material used in dairy products such as cheese, butter and yogurt, as well as the country of packaging and country of processing.

The Italian government said that an opinion poll of consumers in the country showed high interest for the indication of place of origin of the milk and products derived from it.

Food with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status – and Italy has 49 protected cheeses – will be exempt from the origin labeling requirements.

Also, products made elsewhere in the EU are exempt from the new rules, which will also cease to be in effect should the EU come up with a Europe-wide country of origin law.

In July, Italy approached the European Commission with its plans, which were similar to those approved months earlier in France.

A burden for industry

However, Dr Luca Bucchini, managing director of Hylobates Consulting in Rome, Italy, told this website the situations in France and Italy are not the same.

List of products:

Milk and cream, not concentrated nor containing added sugar or other sweetening matter

Milk and cream, concentrated or containing added sugar or other sweetening matter

Buttermilk, curdled milk and cream, yogurt, kefir and other fermented or acidified milk and cream, whether or not concentrated or containing added sugar or other sweetening matter not flavored nor containing added fruit, nuts or cocoa

Whey, whether or not concentrated or containing added sugar or other sweetening matter; products consisting of natural milk constituents, whether or not containing added sugar or other sweetening matter, not elsewhere specified or included

Butter and other fats and oils derived from milk; dairy spreads of a fat content of more than 75% but less than 80 %

Cheese and curd

“Hopefully the EC will be able to act soon and put an end to the rise of national measures. The burden is more severe in Italy, as the country - contrary to France - is not self-sufficient in terms of milk,” Bucchini said.

He said the new ruling creates a burden for industry, while food businesses interested in promoting their products because of their origin could already do so.

“Moreover, it also does not allow businesses to simply fall back on "EU origin" if there is no interest in further specifications,” Bucchini said.

He added that it will be more difficult to switch milk suppliers from Italy to other EU countries during the year when the local milk supply decreases, as this will require label changes.

Bucchini also said that the transition period is a welcome concession to trade groups, but the short transition periods remain punishing for businesses.

“While the intent of the legislation may be good, the short transition period is not a hallmark of good policymaking,” he said.

Labeling details

When a product has been sourced, processed and packaged in the same country, the origin may be indicated using a single sentence, for example ‘Milk origin: Italy,’ or ‘cream: origin of milk – Italy.’ 

However, if processing and packaging takes places in different countries, the following may be used: 'Milk origin: EU countries and/or non-EU countries'.   

The ruling also states that the country of origin must be indelibly marked on the label so as to be visible and easy to read, and that it must not be in any way hidden, obscured, detracted from or manipulated by any other text or graphics or other elements likely to interfere.

Finland, Greece, Lithuania and Portugal are also considering similar country of origin labeling legislation.

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