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Focus on indications of origin

Indications of origin in the labeling of foodstuffs are gaining in importance. Regional products connect consumers with specific localities, quality and sustainable production. Familiarity with one’s own region ensures confidence in its products, a competitive advantage that is increasingly reflected in the company’s results.

In times when regional origin is just as in demand as organic production or lack of additives, suppliers who meet these demands have the edge. The effects of this – or possible effects – was the focus of the recent Lemgo Food Regulations Conference held by the Arbeitskreis für Fleisch und Feinkost (LAFF) in the Lipperlandhalle of the University of Applied Sciences in Lemgo. The great response reflected the increasing interest of the participants.

According to some of the experts, current indications of origin – as well as those consumers may expect – still seem to be hidden in the haze of regulations and rules found in regional, national or even international definitions. Dr. Christoph Meyer of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) criticized that other parts are based on voluntary information provided by the manufacturers in a legally defined form.

Sometimes indications of origin are given when they are required abroad and when companies use the same packaging for distribution on national and international markets. Meyer supports his claim with the rulings of the EU Food Information Regulation (No 1169/2011). According to that directive, the origin must be indicated if there is otherwise a risk of misleading or deceiving the consumer.

Such a system of origin has been in force in 2015 for fresh, chilled and frozen meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. From 2020, the primary ingredient must be labeled if the origin of the food is indicated but not the origin of the primary ingredient.

Regional origin in early stages

Further information was provided by Prof. Dr. Holger Henning Buxel from the Münster University of Applied Sciences. He noted that while regional origin is a much sought-after attribute, implementation has often not progressed far enough. Despite all sympathy for the regional products, no corresponding consumer behavior can yet be reported.

The definition of the term “regional” is often broad. Consumers see their region as an area within 10 to 50 km of their homes. The question as to whether all the raw materials must necessarily come from the region is also not entirely clear.

In the case of vegetables, fruit and eggs, the traceability of regionality seems to be decisive for many consumers; in the case of meat, on the other hand, it is often the taste that counts. Whether it is really the company’s headquarters, the origin of the feed or where further processing takes place, often remains unanswered.

Identification of the primary ingredient

Hildegard Schöllmann (KWG Rechts­anwälte Gummersbach/Brussels) addressed the labeling obligation for primary ingredients. The introduction of an animal welfare label on a voluntary basis and its implementation would look quite good. Unfortunately, the spectrum of game dishes is not yet included in the categorization of origin labeling.

A special connection is important if the origin of a product is directly stated by text or indirectly by visual or graphic elements. The latter triggers an obligation to indicate the origin of the primary ingredient of the food; it may not, however, culminate in misleading information.

Geographical indications do not normally indicate that a product has been manufactured according to a “typical regional recipe”.

In the view of the specialized jurist, to assess whether the origin of a primary ingredient differs from the declared origin of a foodstuff, the primary ingredient must first be identified. The “primary ingredient” is defined as the one that makes up over 50 percent of the food. In addition, the consumer must associate that primary ingredient and designation of the foodstuff with its name. But what about dishes like “Jägerschnitzel”? Are meat or even mushrooms the primary ingredient? According to the speaker, the origin of the mushrooms should be primarily indicated if the Jägerschnitzel is advertised with an indication of origin.

Problems in individual cases

Similarly complex topics were discussed by scientists and researchers in the panel discussion. For example, a product called “fresh chicken breast steaks in paprika marinade” was criticized because chicken breast fillets do not resemble a slice of steak. Dr. Martin Lohneis, Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office Karlsruhe, feels that in this case, the meat’s suitability for quick frying plays the main role here and is a given.

Also discussed was the question of whether designations such as “pork entrecôte” and “turkey hip steaks” should be used. Dr. Hermann Kirchhoff of the Lower Saxony State Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (LAVES) finds that the term “entrecôte” should be reserved for cattle but could also serve as a description. “Turkey hip steak”, on the other hand, lacks an “explanatory designation”.

The question was raised whether vegetable oil in salami – for example palm fat – must be labeled in connection with the designation. Conference leader Prof. Dr. Matthias Upmann, TH Ostwestfalen-Lippe, explained that the regulation would apply because vegetable fat is not expected in salami. Therefore, the replacement of an ingredient must be indicated in a sufficiently legible font size.

Prof. Gerd Weyland (KWG Rechts­anwälte, Gummersbach/Brussels) answered the question whether labeling raw sausages such as onion mettwurst as “gluten-free” was permitted. “It can be assumed that all onion mettwurst is made without gluten.” According to this, such a fact should not be used for advertising. However, he pointed out that proceedings in this area are still pending in two German federal states.

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