The Belgian government is launching an international campaign to promote the production and sale of 'high-quality' chocolate containing no cocoa butter replacements or genetically modifidied ingredients and will today approach chocolate producers to ask them to join the project. The initiative comes in response to the adoption by the EU, in March of this year, of a new European Cocoa and Chocolate Directive, which allows the use of 5% tropical fats as a replacement for cocoa butter in chocolate recipes. The directive was adopted to harmonize chocolate production standards in all member states of the European Union, but was bitterly contested by Belgium and France, which fear the new standards will have a negative impact on the quality image of chocolate.

In Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg, cocoa butter replacements are not allowed in the production of chocolate. These countries are now forced to change their national legislation within three years to allow the use of certain specified tropical fats in the production of chocolate. The Belgian government, however, has continued to look for ways to fight the effects of the EU ruling, in particular in order to protect the image of its own highly regarded 'made in Belgium' chocolate. The Belgian food industry has been shaken in recent years by various food scandals, including the dioxin crisis which severely impacted on Belgian chocolate exports.

The Belgian ministry of Economic Affairs has now come up with an international trademark and label, called Ambao, which may be used by chocolate producers all over the world to show that their chocolate conforms to specific quality standards as defined by the Belgian government. These standards differ in various respects from the official European standards. Chocolate carrying the Ambao logo may contain no other fats than cocoa butter. In addition, certain other standards for Ambao chocolate have been specified which are not included in the European directive. Thus, the Ambao standards prohibit the use of GMO-ingredients, synthetic flavours and animal fats other than milk fat in chocolate.

The new Ambao logo can be used by Belgian chocolate producers starting on the 1st of January 2001. According to the Belgian government, 80% of Belgian chocolate producers have indicated that they will be joining the Traditional and Quality Chocolate Association, which has been created to administer the Ambao logo and manage the project. Early in 2001, campaigns will be launched in Belgium's neighbouring countries to get French, German, Dutch and British producers of chocolate to join the Ambao initiative. In all countries independent quality inspection agencies will be certified by the Belgian government to issue the Ambao certificate to producers who conform to the Ambao standards. In Belgium the agency BELTEST-BELCERT has been accredited for this purpose. Producers are charged €250 to join the project and €0.025 per kilogram processed chocolate for the use of the logo.

Inquiries: Rudy Liekens, Belgian ministry of Economic Affairs, Rudy.Liekens@mineco.fgov.be

By Karel Beckman, just-food.com correspondent