Italy introduces country of origin labels for pasta and rice

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Rice and pasta products on sale in Italy will be required to carry country of origin labels from February.

The measures were passed earlier this week by the Minister for Agriculture, Maurizio Martina, and the Minister for Economic Development, Carlo Calenda. They will see the Italian authorities implement a two-year trial of the scheme. During this time, food makers will be required to indicate the country of origin of the grains used to manufacture rice and pasta items on packaging. Pasta products will also need to communicate country of milling, while rice products will need to show where they were processed and packaged.

The COOL requirements echo standards implemented by Italy last year that mean manufacturers have to indicate the origin of raw materials used to produce dairy products, including milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt. The dairy standards also demand companies show where the products were processed.

According to the decree, food makers have 180 days to adapt their packaging to the new standards and “dispose” of labels and packaging already produced.

"By mid-February, we will finally have more transparent labels on the origin of rice and wheat for pasta,” said Martina. “Our aim is to give maximum transparency to consumer information, thus enhancing the protection of producers and the relationships of two main supply chains for Made in Italy."

According to figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, citing a public consultation, more than 85% of Italians consider it important to know the origin of raw materials. This reflects concern over issues related to food safety standards, particularly for pasta and rice, the Ministry noted.

The Agriculture Minister said the extension of COOL labelling in the food sector was a “decisive choice” that “anticipates the full implementation” of the European Regulation 1169 of 2011.

Controversy in Europe

Country of origin labelling is a controversial subject in Europe.

Italy has previously pressed for mandatory EU-wide COOL requirements. However, the Commission has refused to legislate citing concerns it would push up manufacturing costs and, ultimately, food prices.

Announcing the COOL requirements, Martina said that Italy will not push to get these measures adopted at a European-level again.

While some countries, such as France, have introduced COOL regulations in recent years, other European Member States are dissatisfied with the proliferation of national requirements. Last month, Belgium – with the support of Germany, the Czech Republic, Netherlands and Luxembourg – called for the EC to conduct an impact assessment on national rules on mandatory origin labelling.

In response, the Commission asked Member States that have implemented such measures to provide feedback at the end of their “experiment”, which can run to 2019.

Food and Drink Europe (FDE), a trade body representing the European food sector, insisted that this response was insufficient.

“Evidence is mounting that companies exporting to – for example - France, where such a measure has been in place since summer last year, are experiencing reductions in business as a direct consequence of the national rules. We therefore call on the Commission to urgently take action against this unsustainable situation for the EU Single Market for foods and to proceed with a thorough impact assessment of the market situation without further delay,” FDE argued.

On Italy's latest move, a spokesperson for FDE urged the EC to take a stand against the initiative and stressed that Italy's decision to impose it without "prior notification" at an EU level flouted convention. "FoodDrinkEurope regrets the latest move by the Italian government to adopt laws on mandatory origin labelling of rice and of durum wheat in pasta without prior notification at EU level. Aside from the circumvention of established EU procedures, this will negatively affect the competitiveness of the relevant food sectors, undermine the smooth functioning of the Single Market, and hamper intra-EU and international trade. We call on the Commission to take immediate action against this latest initiative."

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