Improving communication on agricultural product quality
The European agri-food sector offers a variety of quality products reflecting producers’ skills, European traditions and the diversity of the regions in the Community. European Union (EU) agricultural products satisfy very strict production requirements and have specific attributes that are much appreciated by consumers. In order to maintain competitiveness and profitability in the agricultural sector, the Commission has defined strategic orientations in this Communication aimed at improving European agricultural product quality policy (particularly in terms of certification and labelling) to facilitate information flows within the agri-food chain and thus help consumers to make informed choices.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on agricultural product quality policy [COM(2009) 234 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
In this Communication, the Commission defines strategic orientations to improve, in the medium term, communication between farmers, buyers and consumers as regards agricultural product quality, to harmonise European Union (EU) rules on the quality of these products and to improve and simplify existing schemes and labels.
Marketing standards guarantee fair competition and avoid the consumer being misled as to the characteristics of products. There are four types of information contained in current marketing standards:
- a basic definition of the product identity (for example the definition of ‘butter’, ‘fruit juice’, etc.);
- product classification (for example the minimum fat content of ‘semi-skimmed milk’ or ‘large’, ‘medium’ and ‘small’ classes of eggs, etc.);
- reserved terms bestowing added value upon the product (for example what constitutes ‘first cold pressed’ olive oil or ‘traditional method’ sparkling wine, etc.);
- labelling requirements concerning the origin or place of farming.
In the future, the Commission plans to:
- establish a general basic standard. This would cover those matters where a voluntary approach might distort the internal market or where compulsory labelling is necessary to provide consumers with basic information about products;
- extend labelling systems identifying the place of farming to products other than those which are covered at this time;
- examine the feasibility of laying down optional reserved terms for ‘product of mountain farming’ and ‘traditional product’. The term ‘traditional product’ could replace the current system of ‘traditional specialities guaranteed’ which has not reached its full potential; and
- contribute to developing international standards.
Geographical indication schemes encourage high quality farming, safeguard protected names from unauthorised use and imitation, and help consumers by providing them with information about products’ specific attributes. At this time, there are three schemes (for wines, for spirit drinks, and for agricultural products and foodstuffs) and two instruments: the PDO (protected designation of origin) and the PGI (protected geographical indication).
After the consultation, the Commission plans to:
- create a single register bringing together the three existing systems (wines, spirits, and agricultural products and foodstuffs), while preserving the specificities of each system; and
- enhance the protection of geographical indications at international level.
In order to foster trade in organic products, the Commission:
- has created a logo that will be mandatory for all organic products from 2010;
- will work with third countries towards recognition for organic farming standards;
- will contribute to improving the directives of the Codex Alimentarius on organic farming.
National or private food quality certification schemes provide a guarantee that agricultural products comply with mandatory farming standards and meet requirements concerning the protection of the environment, animal welfare, etc., defined in the scheme’s specifications. However, they may confuse consumers and engender administrative costs and costs for farmers.
The Commission will establish, in consultation with the Advisory Group on Quality, good practice guidelines for private certification schemes in order to limit these drawbacks.
This Communication is based on the consultation relating to the Green Paper on agricultural product quality published in October 2008, and on the High Level Conference organised on the same theme by the Czech presidency in March 2009.
The strategic orientations set out in this Communication offer a logical framework for the future policy on agricultural product quality. Comments from the other institutions but also from stakeholders will help to further refine and clarify these suggestions.