Quality Package to reinforce schemes, gives guidelines for labelling

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The European Commission has adopted a new policy package on food quality standards that aims to reinforce the PDO-PGI scheme, streamline marketing standards, and provides guidelines on use of voluntary labelling schemes.

The aim of the Quality Package, which is the result of three year stakeholder consultation effort, is to guarantee quality to consumers whilst ensuring farmers receive a fair price for produce. It is said to unite and simplify several existing pieces of legislation, and is the first step towards a complete overhaul of agricultural product quality.

The legislative elements of the package will now be subject to discussion and adoption by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, with final adoption expected in 2012.

Dacian Cioloş. Commissioner for agriculture and rural development, said: "Farmers, who are under pressure from the economic downturn, concentration of retailer bargaining power, and global competition, need the tools to better communicate about their products to consumers. This Quality Package is a first step on the path of building on a stronger and more dynamic farming sector which will be followed by other initiatives".

Further work is to be done on to study the special circumstances of small-scale producers, who may find it hard to meet the conditions and be excluded from lucrative markets; and the special circumstances of mountain producers.

Once these studies have been completed, the Commission says it may propose follow up.

PGOs, PGIs, TSGs

The first is a proposal for a new ‘Agricultural Product Quality Schemes Regulation’ to reinforce the existing protected designations of origin and geographical indications (PDOs and PGIs), to overhaul the traditional specialties guaranteed scheme (TSG), and to give a framework for developing optional quality terms such as ‘free range’ and ‘first cold pressing’.

Introduced in 1992, there are now more than 950 PDOs and PGIs for products linked to a geographical area where at least one processing step takes place, with a combined wholesale value of €14519m in 2008.

The proposal aims to shorten time delays for registration and iron out legal uncertainties, especially in the case of wine. International use is also taken into consideration in the definitions, the roles of applying member states and groups are clarified, and level of protection provided is reinforced and clarified.

As for TSGs, of which there are currently 30 registered, it is proposed to define ‘traditional’ as ‘proven usage on the domestic market for at least 50 years’. At present only 25 years of proven usage are required.

Marketing standards

The second element is a proposal to streamline the Commission’s adoption of marketing standards, laying down product definitions and categories, minimum required characteristics, and labelling requirements, such as place of farming.

Voluntary schemes

The third is new guidelines on best practices for using voluntary certification schemes and labelling products using geographical indications as ingredients. A recent study of schemes existing on the market identified a total of 441 in operation, covering mainly meat, fruit and vegetables, and dairy products.

The Commission says these schemes are increasingly used by retailers and farming groups to communicate about product characteristics and production methods; some 90 per cent are business-to-consumer and 10 per cent business-to-business.

The guidelines cover aspects such as transparency and non-discriminatory criteria, supervisory structure, use of technical experts and consultation, inspection criteria and continuous development.

The guidelines are applicable immediately.

More information on the Quality Package is available here. http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/quality/policy/quality-package-2010/index_en.htm

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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