Country of Origin Labelling under the EU Food Information Regulation: It's time to become 'more COOL'!

8 minute read
06 February 2014


Following the adoption of the European Union Food Information Regulation 1069/2011 (FIR), there will be more extensive mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL) requirements in place from 13 December 2014 at the earliest.

Following the adoption of the European Union Food Information Regulation 1069/2011 (FIR), there will be more extensive mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL) requirements in place from 13 December 2014 at the earliest.

What will change in relation to country of origin labelling in Europe?

Starting from 13 December 2014, country of origin labelling will be mandatory in circumstances where failure to indicate the origin might mislead the consumer as to the true country of origin or place of provenance of the food. This will be triggered, in particular, if the information accompanying the food, or the label as a whole, would otherwise imply that the food has a different country of origin or place of provenance.

This specific requirement supplements the general prohibition that food information will not be misleading, particularly as to the country of origin or place of provenance.

In addition, the FIR also provides for mandatory COOL labelling requirements in the following cases:

  • For other types of fresh, chilled and frozen meat, such as swine, sheep, goat and poultry;
  • For cases where the country of origin of the final product is not the same as the country of origin of its "primary ingredient".

Under the new regulation it will be assumed that an ingredient or ingredients of a food representing more than 50 per cent of that food, or which are usually associated with the name of the food by the consumer, constitute "primary ingredients".

While a "primary ingredient" can accordingly comprise several ingredients of a food, it would also be possible that the said ingredient accounts for a lesser proportion than other ingredients in the product, but would be considered as essential for the foodstuff by the general consumer (e.g., tomatoes for pizza). However, as long as the country of origin of a food is not specifically highlighted on the label of a product, it will not be necessary to indicate the different origin of any of its primary ingredients.

By 13 December 2013, following impact assessments, the European Commission were to adopt implementing legal acts on the mandatory and voluntary COOL requirements. The Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1337/2013, which lays down rules for the application of the FIR as regards the indication of the country of origin or place of provenance for fresh, chilled and frozen meat of swine, sheep, goats and poultry, was published in the Official Journal of the European Union which will be applicable as from 1 April 2015. However, the draft implementing acts for primary ingredients are still subject to a controversial discussion.

COOL labelling requirements for meat products from swine, sheep, goats and poultry

The implementing regulations for meat require that the Member State or non-member country in which the (last) rearing period of the animal took place, as well as its place of slaughter and the batch code identifying the meat supplied to the consumer or mass caterer, are indicated on the label.

The minimum rearing period varies between the different animal species, from one month (poultry) to six months (swine) to two-thirds of their natural life for sheep and goats. If the minimum rearing period is not attained in any of the Member States where the animal was reared, the indication would have to be replaced by "Reared in: several member states of the EU". Correspondingly, in the case of imported animals or meat: "reared in several third countries".

Where the meat is wholly and identifiably obtained from animals born, reared and slaughtered in one single Member State or non-member country, only "Origin: (name of member state or non-member country) would have to appear on the label.

Meat imported from non-member countries will be subject to less stringent labelling requirements if being placed on the European Union market; they may bear a general indication such as "Reared in: non-EU" and "Slaughtered in: (Name of the non-member country where the animal was slaughtered)". Likewise, minced meat or trimmings produced exclusively from meat imported into the European Union shall be labelled as "Reared and slaughtered in: non-EU".

COOL labelling for primary ingredients

The situation becomes much more complex and difficult when it comes to the suggested rules for indicating the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient where this is different to that given for the food stuff as a whole. This is due to unclear definitions in the FIR as to the scope of application of "country of origin" versus "place of provenance".

The business name or address of the food business operator on the label does not constitute an indication of the country of origin or place of provenance of food under the FIR. In addition, food ingredients whose production involved more than one country shall be deemed to originate in the country where they underwent their last, substantial, economically justified processing, or working in an undertaking equipped for that purpose and resulting in the manufacture of a new product or representing an important stage of manufacture.

Nonetheless, it remains difficult to define whether there are any labelling deviations as to the country of origin/place of provenance in a particular case. The draft implementing rules do not help with that issue. They simply stipulate rules as to the level of precision of the geographical areas to be indicated on the label and the general statement to be used in terms of different food/primary ingredient origin.

On 17 December 2013, the Commission adopted a report for the European Parliament and the Council regarding the mandatory indication of the country of origin or place of provenance for meat used as an ingredient (COM (2013)755).

The Commission report is accompanied by a Commission Staff Working Document - "Origin labelling for meat used as an ingredient: consumers' attitude, feasibility of possible scenarios and impacts" (SWD (2013)437), which provides detailed information underpinning the findings of the Commission report.

Both the Commission report and the accompanied Commission Staff Working Document are mainly based on the results of an external study commissioned by DG SANCO by the Food Chain Evaluation Consortium (FCEC), titled "Study on the application of rules on voluntary origin labeling of foods and on the mandatory indication of country of origin or place of provenance of meat used as an ingredient". This can be accessed and downloaded via the DC Health and Consumer website.

There will be further reports and discussions in the European Union as to any extension of mandatory COOL labelling for: meat other than beef, swine, sheep, goat and poultry; milk; unprocessed foods, single ingredient products and ingredients that constitute more than 50 per cent of a food. These further reports are to be submitted by 13 December 2014.

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