Agricultural producers and consumer representatives have joined forces for a common cause: asking the European Commission to change the labeling regulations, so that stating the origin of the product becomes mandatory. In Spain, this is voluntary, which "generates confusion and can lead to fraud," denounce the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) and the Union of Small Agricultural Producers (UPA).
Both organizations have teamed up with their counterparts in five other European countries (Italy, France, Greece and Poland) to ask for more transparency on the labels. They hope to collect more than one million signatures in Europe within a month and take the petition to the European Commission.
Currently it is only mandatory to specify the origin on the label in the case of fresh products. For example, a broccoli head. Things change if it is cut and packed in plastic. This slight change, which has more to do with the packaging than with the product's processing, already makes it unnecessary to reveal where the food comes from.
This results in deceptive actions with products that have barely been cooked or processed. Some asparagus, for example, "may be packed in a jar with an illustration evoking Navarre, but could actually come from Peru or China," says Enrique García, spokesperson for OCU.
"Since the origin is not specified, consumers are not provided clear information," they denounce. Sometimes it says "packaged in" or "distributed by" and this is where the consumer can be confused, as the label indicates the place where the raw material has been handled, but not where it actually comes from.
As recalled by the OCU, almost 6 out of 10 consumers believe that knowing the origin of the product is crucial to decide whether they will buy it or not. If the asparagus is not Navarrese, they may not want it.
In the particular case of the asparagus, the PGI Espárrago de Navarra points out that they do have a specific labeling regulation that requires marking the origin of the raw material, although they acknowledge that "sometimes, the design of the label or the brand can induce consumers to think that the asparagus is from Navarre."
"In Spain, the quality processes are impeccable. We produce good and safe food; what we want is more transparency," said Montse Cortiñas, vice general secretary of UPA, who believes that making the origin clear is good for the consumer, but also for the producer, because "the product is then better appreciated."