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The introduction of mandatory origin labelling of dairy products in France has led to a landslide of other countries following suit.

Back in July, the European Commission gave clearance for France to begin a two year trial which would require processors to label the origin of dairy products, including all liquid milk, butter, cream, yogurt and cheese. Processed foods with a meat content of more than 8% will also now need to note the origin, however this is not required of dairy ingredients. This trial will run from 1 January 2017 to the end of 2018.

Following the Commission’s approval of this plan, Italy, Portugal and Lithuania have all now formally applied to implement similar national mandatory labelling schemes, using the French application as a blueprint. Spain, Greece and the UK are thought will also shortly follow. Having already given approval to one member state, it will be more or less impossible for the Commission another application.

The EU’s food information law only requires origin labelling for fresh meats, produce, honey, fish and olive oil. However it also includes certain loopholes, allowing countries to introduce national labelling requirements to protect public health or consumers, or to prevent fraud. While the national governments calling for the introduction of mandatory origin labelling of dairy products argue that it to provide consumers with needed information, it is clear that this recent push is a response to the dairy crisis, in order to ensure preference is given to domestic producers. This is neither compatible with the EU’s core principle of free movement of goods nor with the provisions of the EU’s food information law.

Introducing such schemes in select member states will destroy the harmonisation in the market, raise costs for processors, disrupt supply chains and will not deliver any additional benefits to consumers, that are not already provided in voluntary schemes.

Further nationalisation of the markets can be seen in the recent supply initiatives which have sprung up in Romania and Slovakia, which are obliging retailers to source locally. In Bulgaria too, there is an attempt to introduce a new law requiring food packaging to be originally in Bulgarian, rather than covered with a sticker, as is typical for imported products.

As large dairy exporters, these legislative initiatives risk putting Irish farmers and co-ops at a disadvantage should they be allowed to come into force. The Commission may no longer be able to stop this domino effect of countries falling into line behind France, however at the very least further applications must be put on hold until the impact of the French trial can be assessed at the end of 2018, in order to limit the market damage.

By Alison Graham

European Affairs Executive

Tags: Commission, Country of origin labelling