Saturday, June 26, 2010


Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is an issue that is hotting up in the EU because of its implications beyond Europe. One of the cardinal principles of global free trade is "non-discrimination" of products based on country where they are manufactured as it can be construed as an indirect attempt to influence the buying decisions of the consumer at the market place. If the product quality is same there is no reason why a consumer cannot buy a product made in another country and the rigorous testing systems put in place at the entry points in each country is supposed to allow only safe and quality compliant products in. The "patriotism" factor, "local produce" movements, carbon foot print figures, cheap labor cost, lack of hygiene and sanitation, etc are all invoked to shun foreign made goods and protect nonviable local industry. If the global village concept is accepted there is no place for such discriminative trade practices any where in the world.

"Supporters of the proposed COOL regulation say it would put a stop to the practice of meat imported from countries outside the EU being processed, say in Ireland, and then being labelled as produce of Irish origin. While this is it legal, they say, it seems neither fair nor equitable as it comes perilously close to misleading consumers. Opponents counter by arguing the imposition of COOL across the board would cause serious difficulties for manufacturers of complex products such as pizzas, pies and ready meals that buy ingredients from multiple sources according to factors such availability or seasonal variation. Taken to its most extreme, they warn of vast labels listing the origin of dozens of ingredients, covering swathes of food packaging. Constantly changing labels would increase costs and waste. And inevitably, these additional costs will be passed onto customers. Everyone agrees consumers shouldn't be misled about the provenance of food. But where do we draw the line between this and the heaping of questionable bureaucracy on companies that may force some players out of the market and cut customer choice? On food labelling, as with everything else, knowledge is power. Devised properly they allow us to make informed choices about what we eat. But it is vital to find the balance between serving up portion-sized information that illuminates rather than dishing up an overload of data that risks keeping consumers in the dark and placing needless strain on food manufacturers".

Looking from another perspective, indicating the country of origin should not be an issue at all, if the manufacturing countries which export their food products have nothing to fear on the quality or safety count and probably such declaration should bring honor to them. If the products are good, consumers can be expected to prefer them over the locally made ones over a period of time. It is the industry which is having a problem as illustrated by the report above. While traceability is a desired goal which will be useful in identifying the source of food contamination responsible for food poisoning as and when it occurs, practicability of any strategy that is considered must be kept in view.


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