Food labelling is a hot topic for business operators, especially in the EU, which is one of the main markets worldwide for the food and beverage sector.
The interest in this matter can be demonstrated by the harmonization of legislation at EU level by EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers.
The Regulation 1169 sets the main principles, which should be better specified in implementing legislation.
One of the issues to be implemented with additional legislation is the provision of Art. 26.3 of the Regulation, which provides that the place of origin of the primary ingredient shall be indicated on the labelling when it is different from the place of provenance of the foodstuff; the specific labelling modalities are however left to implementing EU legislation to be adopted by December 13, 2013.
While waiting for the EU implementing legislation, Italy has drafted and passed several legislative decrees establishing the modalities of indicating on the label the place of provenance of primary ingredients such as milk (decree of 9 December 2016), rice and pasta (decrees of 26 July 2017).
The decrees have been put in force in Italy, although with an “experimental nature”, since the relevant provisions are supposed to lose effect as soon as the Commission issues EU implementing legislation as set pursuant to Regulation 1169/2011 (Art. 26, paragraph 8).
Recently, the EU Commission has completed a draft of the implementing legislation ruling on the indication on food labelling of the provenance of the primary ingredient (which can be read here), submitting it to public consultation. The application of the relevant final Regulation is expected for April 1, 2019.
The draft Regulation appears as being in line with the provisions of the issued Italian decrees, foreseeing that the indication of the place of origin of the primary ingredient is compulsory where it differs from the place of origin of the final foodstuffs (e.g. it will be necessary to indicate that the grain originates from, let’s say, Canada, where the pasta made with such ingredient is manufactured, let’s say, in Italy).
However, the draft Regulation – differing from the Italian decrees - explicitly excludes from its scope
a) foodstuffs designated and protected by Geographical Indications and
b) foodstuffs distinguished by trademarks registered in the EU pursuant to Directive 2015/2436 including reference to geographical provenance / origin (e.g. depicting an Italian flag, Italian sounding names and so on).
The last exception described above concerning registered trademarks including indications to the geographical origin of the foodstuff has already raised a number of criticisms in Italy. In particular, the focus is on the risk of blessing Italian sounding registered trademarks (or trademarks including a reference to Italy) for food products with the primary ingredient not in fact coming from Italy (or even not coming from the EU), hence leading to a possible risk of misleading the consumer as to the origin (and quality) of the product.