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MEP backs snack producers call for voluntary country of origin labelling

By Jane Byrne , 04-Jun-2010
Last updated on 04-Jun-2010 at 14:53 GMT

Country of origin labelling (COOL) should be not be mandatory for snacks and other foods, as the financial burdens would outweigh any benefits, claims a leading Spanish politician.

Spanish MEP Pilar Ayuso was speaking at a European Snacks Association (ESA) seminar this week, and she reiterated her previous statements on the issue that indication of origin labelling would impose additional costs for the food industry which could prove disproportionate to any gains.

The MEP stated that EU legislation on food labelling is becoming enormously complex and that the issue of indication of origin should be looked at sector by sector.

In March this year, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted in favour of mandatory country of origin labelling for several foods including meat, poultry, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables. Committee members also approved proposals to indicate the country of origin for meat, poultry and fish when used as ingredients in processed food. The committee voted 33-29 in support.

Discussions over the shape of new legislation to modernise and simplify information that appears on food packages have been anything but simple. The proposal on food labelling reform was published in January 2008, and environment committee rapporter Renate Sommer has tabled some 800 amendments since.

The European Parliament’s first reading in plenary session of the proposals is now expected to occur in the week beginning June 14.

A spokesperson for the European Commission's directorate for health and consumer affairs, DG Sanco, told this publication this morning that "at this stage, it is not possible to anticipate the outcome of the decision making process with regard to the issue of origin labelling.

The Commission will consider carefully the various proposals from the European Parliament and Council in order to agree on a pragmatic and balanced approach in the interest of consumers and food business operators."

Dr Sabine Seggelke, public affairs and policy director at the ESA, told BakeryandSnacks.com that the calls for mandatory COOL fail to acknowledge the complex supply chains involved in the production of processed foods such as savoury snacks.

“Any move to enforce mandatory origin provisions would cause severe difficulties for manufacturers who buy ingredients from multiple sources, according to factors such as availability or seasonal variations,” she explained.

The ESA said that it recognises that consumers look for relevant information on finished products, both related to taste and nutrition but it maintains that origin labelling would have no added value as to understanding environmental costs and will ultimately result in information overload on pack.

The association said that the production of potato crisps is a key example of the complexity involved in one ingredient’s supply calendar: “No single potato variety can provide all year round supply. Potato purchasing also has to cope with supply chain interruptions, such as bad harvests. As a result there are different varieties from different origins used throughout the year,” states the ESA.

The group said that the situation is even more complex as regards nuts supply, with Vietnam, US, South Africa, Indonesia, Turkey and Philippines supplying raw materials for a single production site of one its member companies.

“Labelling amendments would only add further, unnecessary costs to the food sector at a difficult time for all producers,” added the ESA.

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