Country of Origin Labelling

Policy Position

FDF fully supports the requirements of the Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers to ensure that misleading statements of origin are not made but considers any extension of the legislation to require origin labelling would be burdensome to achieve; increase costs; contribute little to improving consumer information; further complicate the label; and would have no impact on food safety.

In particular, FDF considers that there should be no mandatory requirement to provide origin labelling for single ingredients (other than meat, poultry or fish) or for the ingredients of composite products due to the complexity, and necessary flexibility, in sourcing many ingredients, particularly seasonal ingredients, to ensure a consistent supply of appropriate quantity and quality. It would be completely impractical to require variant labels to meet all such circumstances and would reduce consumer choice by making manufacture of many products uneconomical.

FDF supports the voluntary actions of food manufacturers in responding to consumer led interest for specific origin information, on or off pack and we have been working with the supply chain, facilitated by Defra, on the development of voluntary principles on country of origin labelling. These voluntary principles build on the current legislation to provide even clearer labelling for consumers.

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Background

Under Article 26 of Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, manufacturers are required to ensure that consumers are not misled with regard to origin or provenance of a food product and, specifically, that details on the place of origin or provenance of a product have to be indicated whenever failure to give such details might mislead the consumer as to the true origin or provenance of the product [same requirement as the repealed Labelling Directive]. The EU FIC extends the rules regarding mandatory country of origin labelling to fresh, chilled and frozen pork, poultry, lamb and goat meat.

The Commission was required to adopt an implementing act concerning the application of the rules regarding the mandatory indication of country of origin labelling to fresh pork, lamb and poultry meat. Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 1337/2013 was adopted on 13 December 2013 and the new rules have been applicable since 1 April 2015. Under these rules, animals born, reared and slaughtered in the same Member State can be labelled “origin: member state/third country”.

In other cases both the country where the animal was reared and the country of slaughter will need to be indicated on the label. There is a derogation for minced meat which may be simply labelled as “EU”, “non-EU” or “reared and slaughtered in the EU and non-EU countries”. The Commission is committed to issue guidelines on the implementation and enforcement of the new Regulation.

The EU FIC also extends the rules regarding the voluntary indication of country of origin labelling. The Commission was required to adopt an implementing act concerning the application of the rules regarding the voluntary indication of country of origin labelling. The Commission has drafted implementing rules for indicating the origin of the primary ingredients of a food where it is different to that given for that food. This was first discussed at a Commission Working Group meeting in September 2013 and only recently in early 2016 these discussions have continued. A draft Implementing Regulation is currently being discussed and, via FDE and Defra, FDF are inputting to the on-going discussions. DG Sante has confirmed that current practices on voluntary origin labelling can continue as long as no implementing rules have been agreed.

The EU FIC also required the Commission to submit reports to the EP and the Council regarding the mandatory indication of country of origin labelling for meat used as an ingredient; milk; milk used as an ingredient in dairy products; unprocessed foods; single ingredient products; and ingredients that represent more than 50% of a food. The Commission published its report on meat used as an ingredient on 17 December 2013. The report weighs up the need for the consumer to be informed, the feasibility of introducing mandatory origin labelling and provides a cost/benefit analysis including the impact on the single market and international trade.

The report concludes that: ‘Consumer interest in origin labelling for meat ingredients appears to be considerably strong. There are significant differences amongst the different Members States as to consumer preferences and understanding of origin information as well as to levels of motivation/reasons for such information. The overall strong consumer interest in origin labelling, (a) ranks behind price and quality/sensory aspects in terms of the most important factors affecting consumer choice and (b) it is not reflected in the relevant consumer "willingness to pay"; at price increases of less than 10%, the "willingness to pay" falls by 60-80%.'

The Commission was due to publish the other reports on milk; milk used as an ingredient in dairy products; other types of meat; unprocessed foods; single ingredient products; and ingredients that represent more than 50% of a food by 13 December 2014 but these were delayed until 2015.

On 20 May 2015, the Commission published two further reports:

  • The first on mandatory indication of the country of origin or place of provenance for milk, milk used as an ingredient in dairy products and types of meat other than beef, swine, sheep, goat and poultry meat (DG Agri competence). The report concludes that ‘consumers may, if they so wish, opt for milk or meat products where origin information is voluntarily provided for by food business operators. This can be a suitable option without imposing additional burden on the industry and the authorities. Mandatory origin labelling would entail higher regulatory burden for most of the products assessed in the report’ and ‘in spite of a consumers' interest for the origin of milk, milk used as an ingredient in dairy products and for meats under the remit of this report, consumers' overall willingness to pay for this information appears to be modest.‘
  • The second on unprocessed foods, single ingredient products and ingredients that constitute over 50% of a food. This report concluded that: ‘In terms of factors affecting consumer purchasing decisions, consumer interest in origin labelling, ranks behind price, taste, use by / best before date, convenience and/or appearance aspects. Even if consumer interest in origin labelling for unprocessed foods, single ingredient products and ingredients representing more than50% of a food is claimed by two thirds to three quarters of consumers, it is lower than for food categories such as meat, meat products or dairy products.’

Manufacturers are also able to make additional voluntary indications as to the origin of their products or of certain ingredients, if appropriate and not misleading. Consumers can also obtain information on product and/or ingredient origin from manufacturers by various off-label means.

In addition, foodstuffs establishes EU rules for protecting designations of origin and geographical indications for agricultural products and foodstuffs intended for human consumption. Under these arrangements, the registered product name will be given protection against imitation across the EU and may carry a Community-approved logo (e.g. PDO, PGI or TSG).

Country of origin labelling for the purposes of consumer information should not be confused with Rules of Origin for the purposes of Customs classification. This is subject to a completely separate regime. Care should be taken when considering whether a “substantial change” for the purposes of the latter can justify a different origin declaration for food labelling purposes, particularly where this involves only light processing.

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Last reviewed: 06 May 2016