The European Commission has decided to allow France to introduce a two-year trial period for the mandatory labelling of origin for milk and meat ingredients in foods.

The two-year trial period is expected to come into force on January 1, 2017 after the relevant sectors are consulted on the labelling rules this summer.

However, the decision by the Commission to allow the trial has been met with criticism from those within the industry.

FoodDrinkEurope, the body representing Europe’s food and drink manufacturing industry, has said that it “deeply regrets” the Commission’s decision.

A statement from the body said that while the initiative is framed as a “test” and applies only to France, it is a mandatory measure which will have an immediate market impact, with considerable negative consequences for producers and for consumers, namely burdensome changes in the supply chain, difficulties in the labelling process and higher prices.

Moreover, of crucial importance in today’s context for Europe, this protectionist measure also sets an irreversible precedent for the fragmentation of the EU Single Market for foods and drinks, it said.

Mella Frewen, Director General of FoodDrinkEurope, said that by accepting the pilot proposed by France, the Commission implicitly accepts that there is a quality difference between French produce and, for example, Belgian, German, Italian, and Spanish produce, even if sourced only a few kilometres across the border.

This blatantly ignores the market reality that food supply chains do not stop at country borders but are for the greatest part European, so that a steady quality and availability can be guaranteed for the best possible price for over 500 million consumers every day.

FoodDrinkEurope urgently calls on political leaders at national and European level to promote the high quality of European foods and drinks globally rather than creating obstacles and supply chain inefficiencies within the Single Market.

Meanwhile, the European Dairy Association (EDA), the voice of the European dairy processors, stands against the introduction of national rules on mandatory origin labelling for milk and dairy products and firmly supports the European legislation on voluntary origin labelling.

Alexander Anton, EDA Secretary General, said that the European Commission clearly failed to protect the single market principle, which is from a political point of view a worst case scenario for the Union.

We have seen the French proposal going viral across Europe – the Italian government has already notified a draft decree, and others will certainly follow the French example. This translates as the end of the single market principle for milk and dairy products.

Anton also said that the Commission is allowing France to test the end of the single market, knowing that once the supply chain is adapted to this regime, the single market is over.

However, a Eurobarometer survey from 2013 (the most up to date survey) found that;

  • 84% of EU citizens consider it necessary to indicate the origin of milk,
  • 88% consider such labelling necessary for meat (other than beef, swine, sheep, goat and poultry meat, which are already covered), and
  • More than 90% consider such labelling important for processed foods.

In March, MEPs in Brussels reiterated calls for mandatory labelling and said it would help maintain consumer confidence in food products by making the food supply chain more transparent.

MEPs added that this labelling should also be made mandatory for meat other than that of bovine, porcine, ovine and caprine species and poultry meat, for milk and milk used as an ingredient in dairy products, for unprocessed foods, single-ingredient products and for ingredients that make up more than 50% of a food.