NEWS » Italy in pasta labelling conflict with the European Commission

Italy in pasta labelling conflict with the European Commission

Should Italian pasta, made with original wheat, be protected?

Italy has recently passed two laws to ensure that all food producers label packs of pasta and rice to indicate from which country the ingredients come from.

According to the European Commission, these types of “made in” labels undermine the single market by encouraging consumers to buy local. Italy is not alone in this way of thinking; more defensive economic policies have been requested by most European countries. The French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, is in favour of granting countries more leeway to protect workers against the menace of borderless free markets. This strategy has been seen as an attempt to fight anti-EU populists.

Italy did not formally notify Brussels of its new origin labels, as the law demands. This was probably because the European Commission usually is very strict about countries introducing laws in the agri-food sector, as it is considered a way of undercutting the single market. 

Despite this open disregard for procedure, a Commission spokeswoman said Brussels needed more information on what had happened before deciding whether to hit Italy with an infringement procedure, which is the standard process when a member country is believed to be breaking EU law.

Several nations have already indicated that they are unhappy with the Italian law protecting its pasta. Italy notified Brussels of the pasta and rice schemes earlier this year. But during the three-month period given to the Commission and EU governments to scrutinize potential damage to the single market, the Italian government withdrew its notification. 

However, several countries argued that origin labels promote food safety and help give consumers information that they have every right to know.

There have already been exceptions to the rules. In response to the dairy crisis of 2016 that sank milk prices to rock-bottom levels, the EU granted a concession: Brussels allowed Italy and some other countries, including France, to make use of origin labels for milk for a two-year trial period.

However, that move triggered off some hostility. Belgium, for example, complained that the French labelling regime on dairy and processed meat, severely harmed its milk and meat exports to France. As a consequence, Belgian sales to France dropped 17 percent in 2016, compared with 2015.

Italy’s planned labels are far more controversial than the milk scheme, partly because of the significantly higher stakes. The country is a food-producing heavyweight and will almost certainly cause problems for the EU on the international trade stage. Canada, alongside seven other large agricultural exporters such as the U.S. and Brazil, raised concerns about Italy’s planned pasta labels at the World Trade Organization in March. Canada is the world’s largest exporter of durum wheat and ships a significant amount to Italy’s pasta makers. 

Giulia Lombardo

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