France’s plan to introduce country-of-origin labels for the meat and dairy ingredients used in processed food sold in the country are a “protectionist measure” and “the end of the single market”, Europe’s food manufacturing trade body, FoodDrinkEurope, has claimed.

In March, the European Commission agreed in principle for France to test out labels indicating the origin of meat and milk in processed foods. The measure was viewed as a means of supporting French agriculture and promoting ‘made in France’ products, as well as addressing food safety issues in the wake of the so-called ‘horsegate’ scandal in parts of Europe in 2013.

However, France’s plan has this week come in for some criticism from pan-Europe industry associations.

FoodDrinkEurope claimed the measure would push up prices for consumers, reduce choice and could increase waste. According to FoodDrinkEurope, the Commission has until 5 July to respond to France’s request to introduce a two-year testing period for the labels. “Concretely, this means a food manufacturer in France would have to indicate on the label of his products the origin of every single meat or dairy ingredient,” FoodDrinKEurope said. “If the Commission does not respond, it will be deemed to accept the French request and the “test” will be applied.”

The organisation pointed to a report from the European Commission on 2014, in which it said Brussels had said mandatory labels for meat as an ingredient in foods was inappropriate. FoodDrinkEurope said a year later the Commission announced mandatory labels for milk and milk as an ingredient would hit prices and competitiveness. The trade body said Brussels had recommended voluntary labels.

The European Dairy Association (EDA) said yesterday (22 June) that it had urged the Commission to uphold EU legislation on voluntary origin labelling.

The EDA cited recent comments by the head of the Eurogroup of EU finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who said that “if things apply differently for France, then this really damages the credibility of the Commission as the guardian of the EU Treaty”.

The EDA said the protection of the principle of the single market, as enshrined in EU treaties, and preventing “unjustified non-tariff barriers to trade”, should be Commission priorities.

“If the Commission decided to go back to national markets for milk and dairy, the effect of mandatory origin labelling… would be an added cost for processors, which would have consequences at all levels of the dairy chain from farmers to consumers and it would heavily impact the EU single market for milk and dairy in changing the sourcing practices in France,” the EDA said.