Living from the primary sector is a daily struggle against the elements. Some, like the climatological ones, are uncontrollable. But the normative ones, the bureaucratic ones and, especially, the commercial ones, are modifiable. Although they are affected by forces that seem more ungovernable than the meteorology itself.
The food industry will be obliged to indicate both the milking country and the processing country, if they are different
If we focus on the case of dairy production, the outlook is discouraging. A sector affected by the low price that large companies impose on farmers, the Community policy with the aim of milk quotas, the fall in consumption and the use of their product as a claim at the point of sale (with loss-making included ).
On Friday, the Council of Ministers approved the Royal Decree that mandates indicating the country of origin of the milk. It does not matter if we buy it as such, or that it is part of a dairy as an ingredient (provided that it accounts for more than 50% of the weight): it will have to indicate its origin.
With this initiative, a demand is heard from farmers, producers of a sector in permanent crisis that suffers the incessant thumping of the market (and politics).
But more transparency is also offered in the food information presented to the final consumer, increasingly demanding due to the weight of their choices on sustainability or on local development.
The information that we will find
From January 2019 and for two years (the Royal Decree will be applied during this time "on an experimental basis") we can know the origin of milk of any kind.
The food industry will be obliged to indicate both the milking country and the processing country, if they are different; or simply "Source of milk: (place)" if both operations are carried out in the same territory.
If you come from a country other than Spain, you can indicate the name of the country or countries of origin, or identify it as "EU", "outside the EU" or "EU and outside the EU". But if all operations are carried out in Spain, you must specifically indicate this country as its origin.
It will apply both to milk and milk that is used as an ingredient, provided that it means more than 50% of the weight of all the ingredients used (it will affect, for example, dairy desserts, but it will not have to be indicated on a plate prepared as a lasagna in which it only means 20% of the weight). You can also indicate voluntarily the regional or local origin.
How important is it?
It will be applied both to milk and to milk that is used as an ingredient provided that it accounts for more than 50% of the weight of all the ingredients used.
The road has been stretched for almost two years in which the draft Royal Decree has met with a CNMC report against it for considering the costly and protectionist measure (and therefore, be able to alter the market) and with the consequent confrontation between Ministries.
However, Regulation 1169/2011 already contemplated the possibility for States to develop national regulations to indicate the origin of certain foods, and this is being done in other countries. So the market rupture would already be a fact. And that's not to mention that other products are already required.
What information did we have?
When we talk about the information that the food industry provides to the consumer, Regulation 1169/2011 is the equivalent of the sacred books of religions. A regulation whose main objective is "to offer the final consumer a basis that allows him to choose with knowledge of cause".
Before its application (in 2014), it was already necessary to indicate the country of origin of foods such as honey, fruit and vegetables, fish, beef and olive oil.
This Regulation also established the obligation to mention the origin in cases in which the labeling could confuse the consumer (for example, when it is suggested with a drawing that comes from one territory, but is made in another).
The milk was left out. Although the European Commission issued a report in May 2015 in which it recognized that more than 80% of consumers were interested in knowing the origin of milk, concluded that mandatory labeling would be expensive and that only 50% of consumers would be willing to pay more to have that information.
The European Commission reported that more than 80% of consumers wanted to know the origin of milk. In Spain it is 88%, according to the Government
These data on the preferences of the population coincide with those presented in 2013 by consumer associations in Europe: 70% of consumers considered it important to know the origin of milk and meat. Also with those that the Government presented after the Council of Ministers on Friday, which raised to 88% the number of Spaniards interested in knowing.
The European Parliament passed a resolution in 2016 in favor of indicating this, but at the moment there is no European norm that obliges it to do so. Therefore, some countries develop their own standards, such as France, Italy and now Spain.
Initiatives to know its origin
Some consumers have been surprised because they were convinced (wrongly) that they could know the country of origin of the milk from the labeling information.
To some extent it is logical that they have that perception. There have been initiatives of all kinds to identify where the milk comes from, the administrations, the producers or even the distribution. But success has been mixed and some have only managed to confuse consumers.
The central government has tried to promote the sector and identify the origin through the already repealed "Letter Q" or the project "Sustainable Dairy Products".
At regional and local level, quality figures have been developed such as "Eusko Label" or "Tierra de Sabor" of Castilla y León, projects that have generated problems even between provincial and regional demarcations. There is also the paradox that companies covered by brands such as "Galicia Calidade", belong to multinationals such as Lactalis, against which the Galician farmers themselves have manifested for the low price paid for their milk. The context is really complex.
Consumers looking for the indication of the province that appears on the oval seal of the upper part of the milk container, would not have too much information. This symbol, the mandatory Identification Mark for all products of animal origin, includes information about the country and province in which the operator that puts it on the market is located. But it only indicates that the product has been made or transformed in that region, not the origin of the raw material.
Beatriz Robles (@beatrizquality) is a food technologist and dietitian-nutritionist, master in food safety audit and an enthusiast of scientific dissemination (www.seguridadalimentariaconbeatriz.com)
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