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France Wants to Know Where Its Milk and Processed Meat Comes From

In France, fresh meat must feature labels that indicate where meat was reared and slaughtered, but no such labeling exists for processed meats like sausages.
Photo via Flickr user jansgate

Europe has long had high standards for labeling the origin of its food, with strict laws that require food products like Parmesan Reggiano, Camembert, Armagnac and Champagne to come from specific geographic regions.

But France, home of the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) system, which designates the origin of wine, butter and cheese down to the village level, wants to push the origin labeling even further.

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The European Union oversees labeling laws for its 28 member states to facilitate trade transparency and product quality across borders. But individual members are allowed to require additional labeling if they pertain to the protection of public health or consumers, Food Navigator reports. Arguing along those lines, France wants to require milk, processed dairy and processed meat products to feature origin labels.

"In principle, national measures introducing mandatory origin labeling are indeed allowed," a spokesperson for the European Commission told Food Navigator.

The call for additional origin labels began with a Change.org petition that now has over 27,000 signatures.

"Consumers want clear information on the origin of processed meat. Farmers and cooperatives are also willing to make the origin of their products more visible," the petition reads. "Because this measure is essential to enhancing the transparency of the supply chain and improving traceability, join us in calling: 'Yes, I want to know where my meat comes from!'"

The petition and Twitter advocates note that fresh meat must feature labels that indicate where meat was reared and where it was slaughtered, but no such labeling exists for processed meats like sausages. Eighty percent of pork used in charcuterie made in France is sourced from outside France, according to the French agriculture organization ANIA. A 2013 survey of the EU found that 90 percent of respondents thought it was important to label the origin of meat in processed foods, and 84 percent thought milk should be labeled, too.

Yesterday, the European Union Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety will vote to make the proposed labels mandatory.

Meanwhile, here in the US, food companies are caught up in a battle with little ol' Vermont, which wants to require that foods that contain GMO products must be labeled as such. In a sign that a resolution is on the horizon, General Mills recently announced it will begin to label all its products that contain GMOs. Food companies were hoping for a national labeling law that, they argued, would avoid a confusing and expensive patchwork of labels that cater to individual state requirements. Needless to say, we're a bit behind the EU when it comes to labeling transparency.

And if the proposal is passed, we'll continue to fall further behind. The French soon could even know the origin of the component parts of sausages, better completing the farm-to-table picture for French consumers. But over here, Stateside, that is a mystery that many hot dog loving Americans may prefer to leave unsolved.