The CNMC was asked to look at a proposed regulation to require companies to label the origin of milk by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and the Environment.
The Royal Decree Project on ‘labelling the origin of milk as an ingredient’ in dairy products had proposed that finished goods made and marketed in Spain should include details on the origin of milk.
The CNMC acknowledged that the geographical origin of products can represent an “important” piece of information for the consumer. However, the body noted nothing currently prevents companies from including these details on their packaging.
“Forcing companies to include this information in the labelling can help to compartmentalise the market by geographical zones, restrict the free movement of goods and affect competition. Therefore, caution should be exercised when introducing this kind of obligations,” the competition authority concluded.
It should also be noted that existing mechanisms under European Union law protect regional products, such as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) status, CNMC added in its advisory report.
Origin labelling proving controversial in EU
Mandatory origin labelling is proving a controversial topic across EU Member States.
Spain launched a two-year trial of country of origin labelling (COOL) in 2017. This legislation also included a voluntary component for the additional information on the region of origin.
The move from the Spanish authorities was part of a wave of national origin labelling has swept the bloc with France, Portugal, Greece, Finland, Lithuania, Romania and Italy all introducing in national rules on origin labelling for various products, such as processed dairy and meat.
Italian legislation has become an important battleground. In addition to COOL requirements introduced in Italy for dairy products, wheat for pasta and rice and processed tomatoes and tomato-based products, the national government also recently introduced requirements for food manufacturers to print the name and address where food and drink products are manufactured.
Brussels has responded by insisting that this move breaches EU law. European critics of mandatory origin labelling argue that it could undermine the functioning of the market and restrict the free movement of goods.