Durum industry awaits ruling on Italian pasta labels

Officials representing the Canadian durum industry have returned from Europe where they met with European millers, pasta makers and trade groups to express concerns over an Italian plan to introduce country-of-origin labels on pasta products sold in Italy.

Italy is often the top export destination for Canadian durum.

Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl said meetings held May 29 to June 1 in Rome, Brussels and Uzwil, Switzerland, were productive, but it remains to be seen whether Italy will carry through on a proposal to introduce country-of-origin labels.

If Italy’s plan is supported by the European Commission, the proposed labels would specify where pasta products being sold in Italy were manufactured and where the raw ingredients used to make those products — including durum— were grown.

It would also require durum millers and pasta manufacturers in Italy and other parts of Europe to segregate imported durum and semolina, adding significant costs to their operations.

“Until last week, the opposition to these (labelling) measures in Europe was really being led by the Italian pasta makers and durum millers,” said Dahl.

“That opposition has now extended to … European (durum milling and pasta making) organizations as well, so that’s positive news for the Canadian durum industry.

“We do share a very common point of view on country-of-origin labeling with our European durum customers so the dialogue with them is very positive and the opportunity to build that common front (against labelling) is also very positive.”

Italian Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina confirmed in early May that he had initiated a process seeking European Commission approval to include country-of-origin labels on all pasta products sold in Italy.

One of Italy’s largest and most influential farm organizations has lobbied for the labels, despite concerns raised by the country’s pasta makers and durum millers.

The commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG Sante) will now review the Italian proposal.

DG Sante has 90 days to conduct its review and issue a comment.

If it does not rule against the Italian proposal, country-of-origin labels could begin appearing on Italian pasta packaging in early 2018.

Dahl said officials with DG Santé and DG Trade (the European Commission’s Directorate General for Trade) were told that the Canadian durum industry considers the Italian labelling proposal protectionist.

Cereals Canada also has concerns with the DG Santé review process, which Dahl described as lacking transparency.

After reviewing the Italian labelling proposal, DG Sante can either issue a positive comment that supports the Italian proposal, a negative comment that opposes the Italian plan, or no comment at all.

“They can, in fact, say nothing at all, which from our perspective, is not transparent and does not (address) the reasoning behind the Italian proposal,” Dahl said.

Cereals Canada and International Trade Minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne also met with representatives of the Italian pasta and milling industries in Rome to discuss the labelling scheme.

Champagne and federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay have raised the issue in recent visits to Europe and Asia.

Canadian durum exports to Italy were valued at more than $321 million in 2016, down from $447 million in 2015.

“The level of commitment and support that we’ve been getting from the Canadian government has been very high,” Dahl said.

“From my perspective, it was important to be in Europe and productive to be there. Has anything substantially changed in the file? No, because we are in this 90-day waiting period where the (European Commission) has 90 days to comment.”

Dahl said the financial repercussions of the labelling proposal on the Canadian durum industry are unknown but could be significant.

Cereals Canada has begun work to quantify those costs, he added.

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