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Origin of primary ingredient, winners and losers

The draft regulation of the European Commission on the indication of the origin labelling of the primary ingredient strengthens the win of Big Food over agriculture and European consumers. Let’s look at why, through a series of practical cases.


Case 1, Italian sounding (or French sounding) on products made in other countries

In the cases of fake ‘Made in…’ – i.e. labels, advertising and brands that suggest (through words, images or symbols) a country of origin which is different from the production site – the latter must be mentioned on the label.

For example, Kraft’s ‘Miracoli’ pasta and sauces,  seemingly Italian because of names and appearance, must specify ‘Made in Germany ’ on the labels. Same goes for ‘Prego’ from Campbell’s and ‘Dolmio’ from Mars products, that have never even seen Italy on a postcard.

Or at least in theory, since in fact there is no news regarding sanctions given to the mentioned giants, nor to the many others that keep on speculating and deceiving consumers with fake ‘Made in’. (1)


Case 2, Italian sounding (or French sounding) on products actually made in the suggested countries but with a primary ingredient with a different origin

In case the origin of the product is declared, but it does not match the origin of the primary ingredient, this must be declared. And the different origins must be specified (e.g. ‘German sausage with Polish pork). As provided from Regulation EU No. 1169/11, Article 26.2.

The European Commission has however excluded registered trademarks from the application of such rule. Thus, it will be sufficient to suggest the nationality of a product within its brand in order to elude the obligation to indicate the different origin of its primary ingredient.

Therefore, the different origin of a primary ingredient (for example, German drumstick of a prosciutto) can be hidden on the labels of products that bear an ‘Italian sounding’ brand, and a tricolor. Even if the registration of the trademark is following the entry into force of this Regulation.


Case 3, PGI’s and other protected geographical indications

Thanks to the exceptions for PGI’s – and any other protected geographical indication (2) – from the obligation to display the different origin of a primary ingredient on food products in which the origin is bragged about, it will be possible to continue to hide the origin of the relevant raw material.

Examples, Bresaola from Valtellina PGI can maintain hidden the origin of the bovine meat employed (usually Brazilian zebu). Same for the Pizzoccheri from Valtellina PGI, even if the buckwheat used comes from China. And speck from Alto Adige PGI, commonly made with German pigs (or from other countries).


Case 4, Italian products already subject to mandatory indication of origin of raw materials

Obligations so far implemented – with regards to the indication of origin of wheat and semolina in pasta, milk in dairy products, rice, tomatoes in their preserves – will be automatically losing their effectiveness as from the date of application of the European Regulation on the implementation of Food Information Regulation (Reg. EU 1169/11), Article 26.2. (3)

Italian operators (industries, SME’s, retailers on own labeled products), over the past months, have been forced to adjust their production procedures, storage of raw materials and labeling of tens of thousands of SKU’s. Investments, procedures and time gone to waste.

The goal stated in those decrees – giving precise information on the origin of raw materials used in the different categories of products – goes out the window once and for all, with due respect to commitments and expectations of the stakeholders.

The origin of the primary ingredient must be declared only in case the origin of the product is vaunted outside the registered trademark, in business information, and this is different from the main raw material contained (>50%).

Moreover, its indication can be provided in the most generic of terms. Up to the paradox ‘UE non-UE’, meaning ‘made on planet Earth’. Escaping from the levels of specification that were assumed in the previous drafts of Regulation, nonetheless in line with Italian Decrees.


Winners and losers

The winner, with no doubts, is Big Food. The large-scale industry manufacturing foodstuffs with a merely financial logic, as if they were bolts or varnishes. Which purchases its primary ingredients time after time, where and when it’s most convenient, wanting to keep its consumers in the dark.

A dull industry that works in secret in rooms in Brussels, with the servile support of the Commission, to deny consumers their rights under EU law. (4) This dullness is surely useful to Big Food. Let’s keep in mind for example that Kraft is the main producer in Parmesan, never being produced in the Po valley and much less made from milk from Reggiano cows.

In the opposite direction to the growing interest of consumers towards food information, also regarding its supply chains. So while more careful operators work at the blockchain to best guarantee traceability, hustlers think they can benefit from secret expediencies. It is a pity that many Italian industrialists fall into the rhetoric of Big Food, without understanding that themselves will be run over.

The losers are the consumersonce again mocked by Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis that disregards their rights while following the orders of big lobbies. (5) In this case, it should be noted, by crossing the limits of the delegation laid down by the European legislator. (6) With the greatest ignominy of twisting the rules, to cover up the clear violation to implement. (7)

It remains unclear, in all this, the role of ministers Maurizio Martina and Carlo Calenda. Who, with the blessing of Coldiretti, have carried out for some years the act of decrees ‘planned obsolescence’. Forcing European procedures on the dutiful notification to Brussels on national legislative plans, meanwhile deceiving the electors on the original decree and forcing Italian industries to adapt in a hurry.

They knew well, ministers and the Coldiretti, that the decrees on the origins of milk, pasta, rice and tomatoes would have had a short life. And now, on top of that, they passively observe the effective defeat of the basic European rules on the indication of the origin of primary ingredients.

Dario Dongo


(1) See Reg. EU 1169/11, Article 26.3. It seems, the responsibility on official public scrutiny is entrusted to the authorities of each Member State. It is unlikely that they sanction industrial groups that produce jobs and wealth on their own national territories, even if they deceive their consumers (for example, resorting to Italian sounding or French sounding on products made in Germany, England or eastern European countries, as often happens)

(2) Under UE Regulations on quality schemes, the CMO (common organization of the market), the spirit drinks and liqueurs, aromatized wines, and even international deals (ex.CETA).

(3) On the basis of specific forecasts contained in every cited decree

(4) The Regulation EU No.

1169/11- in Article 26.2, that the Commission must implement in accordance with the received delegation- contains an obligation to communicate on the label the origin or provenience of a primary ingredient where this does not coincide with the origin of the food product. The standard in question does not foresee any derogations, not in favor of registered trademarks nor of geographical indications

(5) Let us remember the bluff of Commissioner VytenisAndriukaitis, on countering food fraud and on definitions of vegan and vegetarian foodstuffs. Without forgetting the serious dereliction of duty, related to carcinogenic and genotoxic contaminants that palms contain with levels  6over10 times higher than other refined vegetable fats 

(6) See Note 4

(7) To exclude registered trademarks from the rules implemented, Commission invokes the provision of Article 26.3. Which simply provides the obligation to mention the origin of the product when its appearance – also on account of the brand employed, like the Commissioner himself has made clear– may mislead the consumer on the matter. At regards to this rule, the adoption of implementing acts( as the Commission has asserted in the draft regulation in question)

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Dario Dongo, avvocato e giornalista, PhD in diritto alimentare internazionale, fondatore di WIISE (FARE - GIFT – Food Times) ed Égalité.

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