The proposed law – EU Regulation 1169/2011 on Food Information to Consumers (FIC) – aims to ensure consumers are not misled by the origin of their food and ingredients.
The ECA is concerned the new rules, due to take effect in December 2014, will force the European cocoa industry to indicate cocoa origin on packaging, and thereby threaten the practice of bean blending. It worries the Regulation will confuse consumers and place unnecessary strains on manufacturers to comply with the law.
ECA calls for exemption
“We therefore submit cocoa and cocoa semi-finished products to be exempt from the voluntary and mandatory origin indications.
It is important to note that, when drafting a similar legislative initiative, Switzerland opted to exempt cocoa from origin labeling requirements precisely for the reasons invoked above,” it said.
Bean blending flexibility to cater to consumer tastes
The FIC Regulation will require ingredients that constitute over 50% of a food to indicate origin. Milk chocolate contains roughly 30% cocoa (cocoa butter and cocoa liquor), but dark chocolate often accounts for over 50% of the final product.
Cocoa is regularly blended in chocolate products because it is a daily-traded commodity that varies significantly in price, availability and quality depending on weather and market conditions, the ECA noted.
What does FIC regulation say?
“The indication of the country of origin or of the place of provenance of a food should be provided whenever its absence is likely to mislead consumers as to the true country of origin or place of provenance of that product.” Applicable to: “Ingredients that constitute over 50% of a food.”
“Moreover, the vast majority of cocoa-based recipes include cocoa beans and products from different non-EU origins due to consumers’ taste and quality preferences and expectations.
“It is essential that the European cocoa industry maintains flexibility in respect to the sourcing of its raw material in order to meet this consumer demand.”
The group added that the law would not necessarily improve consumer knowledge as most people were already well-aware that cocoa beans were grown outside the EU.
It is also concerned the FIC rules would require a new origin to be given to a product depending not only on where it grown, but where it is processed. Around 43% of cocoa processing takes place at origin, but the majority is grinded outside the origin country - mainly in Europe.
“It is very likely that these new requirements will in fact create further confusion for consumers.”
ECA added: “…To comply with this Regulation, our industry would have to trace specific origins, separate sourcing and invest in additional processing lines, increase storage capacity, etc. Transport, warehouse management and other trade related operations would also need to be adapted to these new requirements.”
Origin labeling is currently only necessary when required by ecological standards, a given certification or by consumer preference. Cocoa and chocolate are regulated by EU Directive (Directive 2000/36/EC).
Other voluntary indications exist linked to place of manufacture such as “Belgian Chocolate”, “Dutch processed liquor” or “German/Dutch processed cocoa powder” and are strictly respected, said the ECA.