EU COOL rules can be difficult to sort through

An access to information and privacy request acquired by The Western Producer shows how complicated the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement is to sustain.

A Nov. 30, 2018, email between Agriculture Canada staff included a background document on Poland’s move to introduce mandatory country-of-origin labelling for fresh potatoes, despite the Canada-European Union trade deal’s tariff elimination for fresh potatoes.

The Polish Vegetable and Potato Union complained about its ability to sell Polish products on both domestic and foreign markets and that Polish stores were mainly supplied with foreign products.

Potatoes are one of the most important crops in the EU, but legislators never reached an agreement for common rules for the potato market.

Poland mandates COOL on fresh potatoes sold loose or packaged but not processed potatoes in order to align the crop with COOL rules for fresh fruits and vegetables covered by marketing standards at the EU level.

The general rules for food labelling in the EU say COOL is permitted where its omission could mislead consumers as to the true country of origin of the final food and where there is a proven link between certain qualities of the food and its origin.

However, fresh potatoes used for human consumption are not covered by these rules because the potato sector opposed the enforcement of a European quality standard, the background document said.

Beyond EU legislation, the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Europe developed more than 50 specific marketing standards for fresh fruits and vegetables including COOL rules for potatoes, but they apply only for early potatoes and those for human consumption.

Potato producers in Europe may also apply for other quality standards, including protected geographical indication (PGI) and protected designation of origin (PDO).

The Agriculture Canada email said “the impact (of Poland’s COOL on potatoes) is minor but is still a worrisome development in the narrative of proliferating COOL measures in the EU.”

The EU’s piecemeal approach to country-of-origin labelling reminds me of a tangled mound of Christmas lights that take more effort than it’s worth to sort out.

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