Blog: John ShepherdAre EU nations using Brexit to revisit country of origin labeling?

John Shepherd | 16 September 2016

As the UK starts to ponder what kind of a relationship it wants with the European Union post-Brexit, EU leaders have been lining up to warn that Britain will not be allowed to "cherry pick" deals and policies that might suit it best as a departing member of the club of EU nations.

To stay with the food analogy, there will be no "à la carte" options for Britain says Brussels, not least in key areas such as trade and the principle of free movement of people and goods across the bloc.

So what then are we to make of the increasing zeal for "remaining" EU nations to rebuild the trading practices of the "bad old days" in the meat and dairy sector in particular? I am referring to the introduction of mandatory country-of-origin labelling.

A number of EU nations have now – successfully – introduced policies that allow them to enforce mandatory labelling for certain products such as meat and dairy items.

Italy's government has signed off on a legislative decree making origin labels mandatory for milk and dairy products sold there. The labels will note the country origin of their milk and where packaging and processing took place.

Italy has said the law aims to "protect" the domestic milk sector, which has suffered from falling prices, notably since EU production quotas were scrapped. 

France too has flexed its national muscle and has been given the green light by the European Commission for a two-year trial of mandatory country-of-origin labelling for meat and dairy ingredients used in processed food sold in the country

Since then, Lithuania and Portugal have made similar requests to introduce mandatory origin labelling for dairy products in their respective countries. Portugal has gone as far as to call for a return to milk quotas "mechanism" in the EU to "save" its dairy sector.

So while EU leaders worry about how to handle the UK's impending departure, it seems there is a less-than-united feeling across those countries who intend to stay in the bloc.

Are some EU member states taking advantage of the situation? While Brussels' bureaucrats' are tied up in talks with the UK, are member nations picking away at some of the red tape of the European project that they do not like?

EU leaders might find it easier to seal a post-Brexit deal with the UK after all, and toss some "cherries" into a quickie divorce settlement, so they can get back to shoring up what seems to be a less-than-united "Brexit-influenced" Union.

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