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Food labels revisited - 29/05/2009

Ham, salami and sausages with labels© EC

One day not so far in the future, Europeans may be able to buy a loaf of bread knowing where the flour came from.

The EU is considering expanding the use of food labels to show where the product was farmed. The step follows a Europe-wide consultation on the issue of food quality. Farmers, producers and consumers voiced strong support for greater use of ‘place-of-farming’ labels.

Such labels indicate the country of harvest, not where the product was processed. They are already mandatory for some foods sold in the EU, including unprocessed beef, poultry, fruit, vegetables, eggs, honey, wine and olive oil.

In a paper spelling out its position, the commission says it will take into account the concerns of processors and retailers, who worry they will have a hard time tracking down the origins of ingredients in processed food.

The EU has some of the most stringent farming requirements in the world. But many consumers question the quality of products from outside the EU, more so in the wake of several scares involving imported food in recent years.

European farmers like the labels because they add appeal to their products, both in the EU and in the global marketplace. Many want the labels to be even more precise, showing the particular region where the product was farmed.

The paper also calls for changes to clear up confusion caused by the proliferation of other kinds of food labels in the EU. Many countries, producers and retailers have adopted schemes that are different from those used by the EU.

The commission wants to abolish the EU label for identifying and protecting the names of traditional products. There have been just 20 registrations since the scheme was set up in 1992. They include a traditional Finnish biscuit, mozzarella cheese produced in the Italian tradition and certain Belgian beers.

EU labels referring to a product’s geographical origin would also be revised. Examples of products carrying this logo include Camembert cheese from the Normandy region of France; prosciutto from Parma, Italy; Kalamata olive oil from Greece; Scotch beef from the UK and bratwurst sausage from Nuremberg, Germany.

Meanwhile, an EU logo for organic foods is being developed. Starting in 2010, it will be mandatory for all products sold as organic in the EU.

Help the EU create a logo for organic food

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