With almost 70% of EU consumers considering a product’s origin a significant factor when making a purchase, the move could affect the country’s food retail market significantly.
And exporting countries like Ireland will be on guard against country-of-origin labelling being used for protectionist reasons.
Already, Irish exporters find it harder to break into export markets where domestic produce is favoured by consumers, and heavily promoted.
Currently, country of origin of food is regulated at the EU level, and it is in principle mandatory only where consumers might be misled as to the true country of origin of the product.
But EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukatis has already allowed a French initiative on origin labelling to go ahead on an experimental basis.
This is expected to run from January 2017 to the end of 2019, and will force French processors to label the origin of milk and meat in their processed foods.
The European Dairy Association, the voice of the EU’s milk processing industry, has warned that other Member States will follow France’s plans, following Commission clearance, and this wil “chip away at the EU’s internal market”.
The Italian Government has also notified the European Commission of a similar initiative. Portugal and Lithuania may also introduce similar county of origin labelling.
The moves are supported by a European Parliament report calling for mandatory country of origin dairy labelling.
In Ireland, ICOS, representing food industry co-ops, supports a voluntary system which balances providing information to consumers and adding unnecessary costs.
Before the Brexit vote, farmers in the UK had called on the Scottish and UK governments for ‘clear and unambiguous country of origin labelling on meat, meat products, milk and dairy products to be delivered as soon as possible’.
They may now press for such action immediately, after the Commission allowed France go ahead with a trial period.
In Poland, foods labelled in a way that is inconsistent with the new provisions may remain on the market until December 31, 2017.