New French Labeling Mandate a Blow to European Common Market

The new bill, which forces companies to label the origin of dairy and meat products, has triggered protests in the food industry
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The bad news just keeps coming for the EU.

In the wake of the Brexit vote and its implications for the food industry, French lawmakers have given the ideal of a borderless European market another setback.

After receiving the go-ahead from the European Commission, French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll has announced that France will introduce compulsory origin labeling standard on dairy and meat products. Starting on January 1, 2017, products will be required to include country of origin requirements.

Consumers and farmers are in strong support of the regulations. The European Consumer Organization found in 2013 that 90 percent of Europeans support food-origin labels for meat products. Those labels would allow farmers to differentiate their products from larger agriculture producers operating in a different part of the European Union.

However, the food industry is strongly against the measure. They argue that such labels would give an unfair advantage local producers (as opposed to the usual scenarios of bigger agriculture organizations receiving preferential treatment from governments). The industry also claims that it could force food prices up and create discrimination of foods from certain countries. On this front, at least, the agricultural industry may have a point: A December 2013 report showed that traceability systems to create origin labels would make packaged foods cost companies up to 50 percent more to make.

The legislation has a larger ripple effect within the European communtiy. Italy, Portugal, and Lithuania want to propose similar legislation requiring country-of-origin labels. This has resulted in the European Common Market, once unified, now wanting to draw distinctions between its various nationalities. One food executive has criticized these labeling propositions as “drawing back up our national borders in protectionism."

However, it is impossible to ignore the groundswell of support for the measure among the smaller producers and consumers most affected by the measure. And with concepts like forage-to-table weddings highlighting the importance of eating local, this origin labeling law comes as the next logical step.

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