Yesterday, if you cared to celebrate it, was officially “European Consumer Day on product safety and market surveillance“. Hardly the kind of event that stops the traffic in Paris or Warsaw, but most people would agree that effective standards (whether government or industry set) are needed in any market. We can debate whether those standards need to be tougher or looser, but if consumers can’t trust the quality of the products they are buying then the market can’t function.
Market surveillance is then organised and carried out to ensure that products comply with these standards (in the EU, this is done by governments at the national level). Last month, the European Commission proposed new rules to improve market surveillance, including closer coordination of national regimes. The new proposals also include stricter rules on “country of origin” labelling, including the requirement that:
Manufacturers and importers shall ensure that products bear an indication of the country of origin of the product… For products manufactured in the Union, the indication shall refer to the Union or to a particular Member State.
The most recent high-profile failure of market surveillance in Europe, of course, was the horse meat scandal (which we posted about here). Though the new rules concern only non-food products, the Commission has indicated that it is considering extending the “country of origin” rules to also cover processed meat (fresh meat products, including pork, sheep, goat and poultry, are already required to display their country of origin).
When we discussed the horse-meat scandal recently, we had a comment sent in by David from the UK arguing that: “Every product [sold in the EU] should be labelled with its Country of origin.“
Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to speak to Caroline Spelman, a British Conservative MP and former UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We asked Ms. Spelman how she would respond to David’s comment:
I would say to David that British Conservatives pushed very hard for country of origin labelling in the EU to include processed meat, including for animals brought in to be slaughtered in the UK. Accuracy in labelling is something we attach great importance to. Unfortunately, others voted against it and this requirement was left out [of the EU legislation that was agreed in 2011].
We also had comments that were critical of the idea of country of origin labelling, including one from Bogdan, who argued:
This debate can only lead to a witch hunt. It’s [subliminally] accusing the country of origin [of having], by default, unhealthy meat… What good would it do to know the country of origin? Does that mean any meat coming from Western Europe is, by default, clean and healthy?!
How would Caroline Spelman respond?
I don’t think this will result in a witch-hunt against any member state. The fraud we have seen exposed recently is widespread across Europe, and everyone involved in the food supply chain feels responsible for cleaning it up.
The issue of effective traceability is, of course, not just restricted to food products. A poll of 500 global company executives, conducted last week by the German testing and certification company TÜV SÜD, found that 56% of firms can’t trace all the components in their products through their supply chain, and 47% of firms couldn’t guarantee safety requirements for this reason.
What do YOU think? Do you trust EU product safety standards? Would clearer “country of origin” labelling help improve trust? Or would it lead to a witch-hunt against some countries? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.