Country of origin labelling for honey, fruit juices, and jams is the main outstanding issue to iron out in what is expected to be a quick deal on new EU marketing standards for foodstuffs commonly eaten at breakfast.
The first official round of talks between negotiators from the European Parliament and the EU Council to resolve differences over the revision of the so-called Breakfast Directives takes place this evening (30 January) amid expectations of swift success.
After six preparatory meetings successfully conducted at a technical level, the signs suggest this first encounter will also be the last and that lawmakers will not need to wrangle long to clinch a deal.
The proposal to update 20-year-old marketing standards of foodstuffs such as coffee, cocoa, fruit jams, and sugars intended for human consumption was put forward by the EU executive last April.
As negotiators close in on a deal, country of origin labelling remains one of the few moving parts.
Both MEPs and ministers want to amend the Commission’s proposal to incorporate country of origin labelling on honey in a bid to stem floods of counterfeit imports mainly coming from China.
“In the future consumers shall clearly see on the label the country of origin where the honey has been harvested, with percentages and in descending order,” key negotiating MEP Alexander Bernhuber (Austria/EPP) told Euronews.
While the parliament favours indicating the share by weight for each country of origin using percentage ranges, ministers prefer the idea of labelling exact percentages within a 5% margin of tolerance.
Where there are more than four countries of origin, the EU Council would like the four largest indicated by exact percentage, with further countries indicated by name alone.
The parliament wants to go further than the EU Council by introducing a novel traceability system for tracking honey along the entire supply chain.
“We will push for higher quality standards and a traceability system from the ‘consumer to the hives’ to prevent fraud and adulteration,” said Bernhuber.
Including fruit jams and juices
Parliament’s position on country of origin labelling goes beyond honey. “We call for a clear and better labelling of origin that allows informed consumer choices, not only for honey but also fruit juices and jams,” Bernhuber said.
However, member states do not seem willing to extend the requirement to other products.
The Belgian European Council presidency – leading the talks on behalf of EU ministers – told diplomats meeting on Monday (29 January) that extending the measures beyond honey would have a doubtful impact on consumers, according to an EU source.
In the same meeting, the bloc’s agriculture attachés agreed that the bureaucratic burden of such an extended requirement was unclear since no impact assessment has been carried out by the commission.
The EU executive has also told negotiators that country of origin labelling is currently unfeasible for juices and jams, according to an EU source close to the talks.
A deal could see the commission given the power to revert to the issue and adopt measures subsequently through secondary legislation, the source added.
The Parliament and the Council want to introduce labelling for ‘reduced-sugar from fruit juice’ and ‘reduced-sugar fruit juice from concentrate’.
MEPs want to tighten claims on the labelling for such products that suggests that they would have positive properties in comparison to non-reduced fruit juices – for instance, that they contain fewer calories or are healthier.