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National Origin Labelling Decrees Under Examination at the European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice held a hearing on mandatory country of origin labelling for dairy products on June 3.

The case was brought by the dairy company Lactalis, against the French government, in relation to the French national decree requiring French dairy products to state their country of origin. However, the decision in the case could have consequences for the numerous national mandatory origin labelling decrees adopted by EU member states for dairy products in recent years, as well and for the Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy, which calls for mandatory origin labelling of food products.

The court is to make a judgment on whether EU Regulation 1169/2011 precludes Member States having their own rules on mandatory origin labelling of milk. Under the legislation, countries can insist on extra information being provided on the grounds of public health, the protection of consumers, or the prevention of fraud. It is also allowed to protect industrial or commercial property rights, GIs or to prevent unfair competition. Therefore, Member States may introduce measures on country of origin labelling, where there is a proven link between certain qualities of the food and its origin. The French government argued that the consumer’s wish to know is also an objective element allowed under these rules.

However at the hearing, this argument did not seem to resonate with the four judges nor with the Advocate General, Gerard Hogan, who expressed his view on this question in an opinion in another court case from June 2019, where he stated it was “not sufficient that the country of origin … has, as such, a certain importance in the consumers’ decision,” insisting that country of origin “must have a tangible impact in respect of the product itself and, in particular, the quality of the food in question.”

Alison Graham – European Affairs Executive