¿Paella Valenciana without Valencian rice?

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A rice-loving consumer decides to buy a ready-to-eat paella in a supermarket, the packaging of which reads “paella valenciana”, but the rice it contains comes from China: it is a hypothetical case but it could be real, and the European Union wants to put an end to it by considering it to be deceptive.

The same thing could happen if we buy a lambrusco that says Italian on its label, but the grape used is from another country.

The days are numbered because on 1 April next a series of guidelines will come into force in the European Union with the aim of tackling “misleading food information” and misleading consumers, according to the regulations consulted by Efeagro.

Basically, what the European regulations want is for those foods that indicate a country of origin or origin on their packaging or labelling to also detail the origin of their primary or main ingredient if different.

The regulation is brief, just three pages, and it specifies how the origin of that ingredient will be indicated, which can be done with references such as “EU”, “outside the EU” or “EU and outside the EU”, among others.

One may also choose to indicate that the primary ingredient does not originate from the country of origin of the food.

This brevity of the rule has led the Commission itself to publish an extended document, with questions and answers, which resolves doubts.

There are many details and some curious ones, such as the fact that this regulation does not have to be complied with by foods that literally indicate an origin but are so famous throughout the world that the consumer no longer associates them with their origin, as is the case with the Frankfurt sausage.

Nor is it necessary, for the time being, for registered trademarks with indications of source to be adhered to, although the EU reserves the option of adopting specific provisions at a later date.

The EU considers that consumers do not associate expressions such as “packaged in” with the origin of a food, so such labelling is outside the scope of the standard, but those using the formula “made in” or “produced in” will nevertheless have to indicate the origin of the primary ingredient.

The use of national symbols, the colours of a flag, monuments, landscapes and even famous people on the packaging of a food are indicators of origin and are therefore affected by the Community rules.

However, in the latter case, the rule is more lax and allows each case to be evaluated independently to assess whether or not it is necessary to detail the origin of the main ingredient.

Products with protected geographical indications (PGI or PDO) recognised by Community law do not have to apply the rule.

From the Spanish Federation of Food and Drink Industries (FIAB), its director of Food, Nutrition and Health Policy, Enrico Frabetti, assesses the regulation if the new information “provides added value”.

He calls for “common sense” when applying the regulation, because the final text is “complicated” and gives rise to “more questions than answers”.

The FIAB has met with the Administration and interested companies to advance in its application: “We will have to have a little patience between all of us because there are many particular cases and doubts”, indicates Frabetti, who does not believe that there is one food sector more affected than another.

The spokesperson for the Spanish Federation of Consumers (Facua), Rubén Sánchez:

“The slowness and lack of inspections by the authorities may cause companies to cheerfully skip this new legislation,” he said.

The meat industry has also expressed its opinion on the new regulation, specifically the head of the technical and regulatory area of the Meat and Meat Industry Federation (Fecic), Ignasi Pons, who explains that this origin labelling is already applied to meat but not to processed meat.

He values the fact that the regulation serves to “not confuse” the consumer and believes it will affect small producers more.