Origin of primary ingredient

Origin of primary ingredient

Implementing acts are coming up on the indication of the primary ingredient provenance, when it’s different from the declared origin of the food.  The European Commission’s latest draft defeats the ground rules with broad derogations in favor of registered trademarks, PGI, and other ‘safe havens’. It will also wipe out the Italian decrees on the mandatory declaration of origin of wheat in pasta labels, rice, milk in diary products, tomatoes in their preserves. 

The Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, after years of dormancy, is finally dedicated to the indication of the origin of the primary ingredient on the labels of food products. The draft Regulation, in its final version, is now subject to public consultation, open until February 1, 2018. (1)

Indication of the origin of the primary ingredient, the basic rule

The origin of the primary ingredient (2) must be declared on food labels when it doesn’t match with the one of the food product (which, reminder, coincides with the country where the product is last processed) and indications are provided on the latter. (3)

Where the country of origin or the place of provenance of a food is given and where it is not the same as that of its primary ingredient:
a) the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient in question shall also be given; or
b)  the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient shall be indicated as being different to that of the food. (Regulation UE 1169/11, Art.26.3)

 For example, the label of a ham with a tricolor crest must specify the origin of the bone-in pork, where this does not coincide with the country of processing. Quoting the origin of this last one or, as an alternative, the diversity of the origin.
The ways of indicating the different origin of a primary ingredient are entrusted by a specific implementing Regulation, that the European Commission should have issued by December 13, 2013! (4) 

Origin of the primary ingredient, the draft implementing Regulation 

The European Commission – after a couple of failed attempts over the years – has finally put in place a draft Regulation concerning the manner in which the origin of the primary ingredient must be indicated.

A) BrandsThe sole use of a commercial brand that may even implicitly suggest the origin of a food product – from a lexical point of view (e.g. Italian sounding) or graphic (i.e. stylized flags and/or their suggestive colors) – should trigger the obligation to indicate the different origin of its primary ingredient, when different.

However, in the Commission’s latest draft, registered trademarks (under Directive UE No. 2015/2436) are specifically excluded from the above mentioned requirement. Even before having ‘created the bill’, the lobbies of Big Food have thus ‘found the deceit’. In contempt with transparency in information and with the basic rule from Regulation EU No. 1169/11, Article 26.2, that should be implemented.

Nonetheless, wherever the brand suggests a specific origin of a food product and this does not coincide with its country of origin (i.e., the country of its last substantial transformation, as determined in accordance with Articles 23 to 26 of Regulation EEC No. 2913/92), it must be specified.

That is to say, in the cases of Italian sounding – i.e. misleading labels and advertising – like ‘Prego’ from Campbell’s products, ‘Miracoli’ from Kraft Foods or ‘Dolmio’ from Mars, the origin of the product should be indicated at the very least, since different from what suggested. (5)

B) The origin of the primary ingredient can be indicated with different levels of clarification. From the most generic up to local details:

-‘EU’, ‘NON EU’ or ‘EU and NON-EU’,

-macro-region, that may include more countries as long as its approved by public international law or also intended by the ‘moderately informed’ average consumer,

-FAO area for catching of fishery products,

-Member State or non-EU country,

-region or other territory, within a Member State or a non-EU country, provided that they are easily recognizable to the average consumer.

As an alternative, it will be possible to state on the label that ‘the origin of the primary ingredient (…) does not match the origin of the product’, or other similar wording.

C) Excluded products. The obligation to indicate the different origin of the primary ingredient is not applied to food products with  geographical indications protected in accordance with:

– Regulation EU No. 1151/2012 (PDO and GPI), (6)

– Regulation EU No. 1308/2013 (Common Organization of the Market, CMO),

– Regulation EC No. 110/2008 (spirits and liqueurs),

– Regulation EU No. 251/2014 (aromatized wines),

– international treaties and agreements

Origin on labels, the scenery in sight

The entry into force of the implementing Regulation is due on April 1, 2019. With the right to dispose of stocks of labeled products or placed on the market by that date.

Italian Decrees which prescribe the compulsory indication of primary ingredients origin for milk and dairy products, wheats and semolina in pasta, rice, preserved tomatoes will lapse starting from this date. For express provision of all foreseen decrees, as if they have all been written with invisible ink.

Less invisible will be the memory of the signatories to these decrees, that for some years have deluded their constituency – forcing operators of liabilities of no small matters

– in the name of provisions even more ephemeral than their own tasks.

Dario Dongo


(1) See

(2) ‘primary ingredient’: an ingredient or ingredients of a food that represent more than 50 % of that food or which are usually associated with the name of the food by the consumer and for which in most cases a quantitative indication is required

(3) See UE Reg. 1169/11, Art. 26.3

(4) See previous articles on the subject, on  and

(5) Or at least in theory, as prescribed by Regulation EU 1169/11, Article 26.2. However in practice, there is no news on acts of enforcement towards the cited commercial giants, that for decades have speculated through Italian sounding in the backs of global consumers

(6) Yet another tease will be the persisting of secrecy on the origin of raw materials in products with a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). With the paradox that the origin of primary ingredients will be known for common foodstuff and not for the PGI ones (!)

About the author

Dario Dongo

Dario Dongo

Dario Dongo, avvocato e giornalista, PhD in diritto alimentare internazionale, fondatore di WIISE (FARE - GIFT – Food Times) e cofondatore del Fatto Alimentare.