Diritto Amministrativo e Appalti

Mandatory origin label for rice and pasta: the Italian government decrees under the exam of the European Commission

The Italian government has submitted to Brussels the draft decrees for the introduction of an obligation to indicate the origin of certain the raw materials.[1] For rice, the place of cultivation, processing and packaging must be indicated, while for wheat, the place of wheat cultivation and the sowing of the seeds must be indicated. The article reviews the draft decrees submitted by the Ministry of Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies, to the Commission for approval prior to implementation.

Italy is the biggest producer of rice in Europe. The land dedicated to cultivation is 234.300 hectares, there are more than 140 varieties of rice and about 1.500.000 tonnes is produced every year. There are more than 4,265 rice companies in the supply chain.

The rice sector has been in crisis since the introduction of the EU’s Everything But Arms trade initiative. Everything but Arms allows imports into the EU from least developed countries tariff free and without quantitative restrictions. This has given rise to a massive increase in imports of Rice from Vietnam and Cambodia resulting in a significant drop in market prices of some varieties of rice and, consequently, a reduction – in 2014 – of the cultivation of certain types of varieties using over 12,000 hectares.

To try and counter the imports producers have been calling for better labelling of foodstuffs containing rice so as to indicate to consumers the true origin of the raw materials. The producers hope that consumers will tend to purchase products with Italian rice rather than imported rice.

Therefore, the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies has declared –in the event the European Commission does not approve the above mentioned decree – that it is ready to renew the request of the general safeguard clause[2] pursuant to article 22 of the Regulation EU no. 978/2012[3].

In addition to rice Italy wishes to address the use of wheat in processed foods and in particular pasta. In particular, the decree provides that processed wheat products like pasta produced in Italy must bear on the label the following information:

  1. country of wheat cultivation: the name of the country in which the wheat is grown;
  2. country of milling: name of the country where the grain was ground.

If the above mentioned operations occur in the territory of several countries, it may be used – depending on the country of origin – the following wording: EU countries, non EU countries, EU countries and non-EU countries.

If durum wheat is cultivated for at least 50% in one country, such as Italy, the term “Italy and other EU and / or non-EU countries” may be used.

Italy has already introduced origin labelling for milk used in milk products. Introducing the origin labelling measure in April 2017, the Italian Minister for Agricultural Policies, Maurizio Martina, said that, “Italy is working to introduce mandatory information on the origin of milk including as a raw material in dairy products. The Commission is addressing finally our request on labelling. We have had a dossier open for months now with the Commission on a 100% Italian label and we are hoping for faster action”. [4]

The decrees requiring the labelling of origin of the raw materials are to be applied on an experimental basis. This allows Italy to overcome certain legal difficulties in the EU’s food labelling law set out in Regulation EU no. 1169/2011.

The contents of the draft decree on rice has not been shared with the referring industrial association, namely AIRI –Association Industries Italian Rice Producers. In fact, pursuant to Italian law no. 180/2011 “any law which introduces additional burdens for business may be elaborated without an adequate analysis of impact made by the responsible Ministry and without adequately involving the category associations.”

An adequate analysis according to Italian law no. 180/2011 would suggest that the origin label for wheat and rice in Italy does not provide particularly useful suggestions for the consumers since the duty will affect only the products sell in Italy, not even the products sell abroad.

On the other hand, the duty of labelling will be an additional cost for the rice and wheat companies. The companies which will not want use the origin label for the foreign market will have to differentiate the labels and the storages.

In conclusion, it remains to be seen if the European Commission approves the new measures. It is only if the decrees get clearance from Brussels will Italy be able to implement them.




[1] Namely “Schema di Decreto interministeriale concernente l’indicazione dell’origine in etichetta del grano duro per le paste di semola di grano duro, in attuazione del regolamento (UE) n. 1169/2011, relativo alla fornitura di informazioni sugli alimenti ai consumatori.” And “Schema di Decreto interministeriale concernente l’indicazione dell’origine in etichetta del riso, in attuazione del regolamento (UE) n. 1169/2011, relativo alla fornitura di informazioni sugli alimenti ai consumatori”.

[2] See the official website of the Italian Minister of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (Mipaaf) for more.

[3] According to article 22 “1. Where a product originating in a beneficiary country of any of the preferential arrangements referred to in Article 1(2), is imported in volumes and/or at prices which cause, or threaten to cause, serious difficulties to Union producers of like or directly competing products, normal Common Customs Tariff duties on that product may be reintroduced.”

[4] From the speech held by the Italian Minister Maurizio Martina on the occasion of the ufficial inauguration ceremony of “TuttoFood” in Milan on 8-11 March.

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