The ongoing issue with food labelling

31st December 2013 - Fine Cut

The last 12 months have been a time of great advancement for countries around the world, as international economies begin to improve after several years of uncertainty.

As industry and trade continue on a path of growth following a difficult time, the need for strong and blossoming relationships between international markets was stronger than ever before.

However, one issue has divided opinion between governments across the European Union in particularly - the subject of food labelling.

The issue 

While some countries - including the UK - hoped to give consumers the chance to make more informed decisions about the food they buy during their weekly shop, others have reacted angrily to potential changes in the way foods are labelled.

Italy in particular has threatened Britain's new traffic light labelling system with diplomatic repercussions, claiming that its most popular exports - such as Parmesan cheese, salami, prosciutto ham and olive oil - will be considered high risk foods under the scheme.

The traffic light initiative, which was launched in British supermarkets in June, sees items marked with a green, amber or red light depending on their fat content. It is hoped to warn consumers off eating too much fatty food as obesity rates rise quickly.

Nunzia de Girolamo, Italian agriculture minister, took her complaint about the food labelling scheme to an EU meeting of farming ministers earlier this month.

"When Italy uses a strong tone and a strong arguments it gets results," she explained, adding: "We won't stand by and watch, inert, while the tradition and the work of thousands of Italians risks being damaged by commercial manoeuvres we see as unjustified and thoughtless."

Confusing matters

Although labelling for nutritional purposes has become a major issue affecting the food manufacture industry in the last 12 months, meat producers have also been embroiled in a dispute over how detailed new country-of-origin identification should be.

Two leading farming organisation claimed new rules would bring "massive confusion" for shoppers looking to buy British-produced meat.

The National Pig Association and the National Farmers Union (NFU) have expressed concern that labels could give the impression that a product was reared in the UK when the animal was in fact born in another country.

Meurig Raymond, NFU deputy president, said: "Since 2010, in the country of origin industry voluntary guidelines, retailers and processors have been following good practice of origin labelling and any deviation from this undermines consumer trust and the integrity of British farmers.

"We hope they will continue to support consumer transparency and uphold the integrity of the UK and British brands."

Disruption to trade

What's more, some experts have suggested that revolutionising the way foods are labelled in supermarkets and retailers across the European Union could cause more friction between member states than cooperation.

Senior meat industry figures Jean-Luc Meriaux - secretary general of the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union - and Detlef Stachetzki - manager at the German meat industry federation - said plans to overhaul the identification of meat products could potentially work against the EU's aim of bringing together countries in a single market.

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