Creating a fairer food chain was the focus of an informal meeting of the agriculture and fisheries ministers of the European Union, as member states explore mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) of pre-packaged foods containing meat and milk products.
Aiming for a fairer food chain
At the heart of the discussions by EU agriculture ministers was how to strength the position of farmers in the food supply chain. The informal meeting was held in Bratislava to mark the start of Slovakia’s six-month presidency of the EU.
Increasing globalization over recent years has led to primary agricultural producers gradually becoming the weakest link in the food supply chain and their bargaining power has diminished, ministers heard.
“It is necessary that we let farmers and producers get a fair deal on the margins,” said Slovak Agriculture Minister Gabriela Matečná. ”This is the only way to ensure that consumers have access to quality food at a reasonable price throughout the European Union and to ensure food self-sufficiency in the Union and the competitiveness of our agriculture and agricultural producers.”
“As we are working to address the agricultural crisis in the short term, we are well advised to keep looking at the longer term solutions that can structurally improve the situation of farmers,” stated Phil Hogan, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Ministers from most member states supported the view that a unified, EU-wide response was needed to end unfair trading practices.
The associations of European farming organizations and agricultural co-operatives, Copa-Cogeca welcomed the Slovak initiative to help farmers achieve a better and fairer price for their produce by ending Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs).
“Farmers are being squeezed by both the upstream and downstream sectors, with the retail sector dominated by just a few operators in many Member States,” commented Cogeca president Thomas Magnusson. “We therefore welcome the Slovak Presidency’s calls to get a fair deal on their margins. This is the only way to ensure that consumers have access to quality food at a reasonable price throughout the EU. Only a fair, transparent and balanced food chain will ensure a sustainable farming sector.”
“When unfair and unethical business behavior leads to financial gains, only legislation backed by independent and robust enforcement can deliver the necessary results,” added Copa & Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Personen. “Concentrating supply and adding value to agricultural produce is key to strengthening farmers’ positioning in the food chain.”
Following the talks, the Presidency plans to adopt EU Council conclusions on the issue by the end of this year.
Country of origin labeling (COOL) of prepared foods explored
France is to implement the mandatory labeling of the origin of milk in dairy products and meat in prepared dishes from January 1, 2017, the country’s agriculture ministry announced recently. Consultations are underway with consumers and professionals to set the threshold inclusion levels of meat and milk in dishes to which the labeling rule should apply.
The decree will be valid for a period of two years, after which the results will be evaluated by the European Commission for its long-term sustainability.
Following the lead in France, the government in the UK is also being urged to consider the introduction of mandatory COOL for meat and milk in processed products.
The move would give shoppers more choice and confidence when buying British food and increase transparency in the supply chain, according to the National Farmers Union of England, Wales and Scotland as well as the National Pig Association in a joint letter to the Secretary of State. They add that as well as the French trial, other European governments plan to implement country of origin labeling for processed foods.
“We believe that the UK government should move now to introduce origin labeling for meat and milk in processed products which would provide greater transparency. With the Brexit negotiations on the horizon, this could be the start of strong national legislation to ensure we have clear country of origin labeling in the future,” the letter adds.