Europe: Mandatory labelling could have major implications

Lately there has been much uncertainty about the impact of the new labelling legislation, in particular in regard to nutritional values and country of origin. By December, the European Commission means to publish an investigation into the impact of a mandatory indication of country of origin for unprocessed products. But many issues are still unclear. In the Dutch Fresh Produce Centre, they see an increase in the number of questions. Nicolette Quaedvlieg clarifies the existing rules and the ongoing discussion.



Country of origin

“We do get a lot of questions,” says Nicolette. “But in fact, the changes aren’t that impressive. Unprocessed fruit and vegetables consisting of a single ingredient, or category of ingredients, are exempt from mentioning the nutritional value, and disclosing the country of origin is already mandatory." One potential change looming over the market, however, concerns the country of origin for cut vegetables and fruit.

"At the moment it’s true that it’s not required to mention country of origin on processed products," explains Nicolette. "The information given should of course always be correct, and misleading the consumer is prohibited. For instance, it is not permitted to put Dutch flags on a package containing Egyptian beans. But it’s not about that."

Consequences

Nicolette: "For products such as rice and flour, which are also seen as unprocessed, it's not such a big problem, but for fresh produce it’s different." Under unprocessed products we find all cut fruit and vegetables, regardless of the composition and proportion. Should the investigation result in a legislative proposal by the European Commission, and in regulation obliging processing companies to indicate the country of origin, it will have major implications for the sector.



Those processing fresh produce, will need to create a custom label for each time the origin of one of the ingredients changes. If your mix includes six different types of lettuce, your label might well have to list six different countries. Printers, templates and labels will have to be modified or replaced continuously. “We should also question the added value of this information,” says Nicolette. “Do consumers really care about the country of origin? A 2012 study by LEI (LEI is the Dutch Agricultural Economics Research Institute) states that they don’t.”

She concludes: "Processed vegetables make up for about 30% of vegetable sales in supermarkets. What matters is that the products are tasty, fresh and healthy. Does the country of origin actually matter?"

More information:
Nicolette Quaedvlieg
E: Quaedvlieg@groentenfruithuis.nl
W: www.groentenenfruitportaal.nl

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