The EXPO theme of feed the planet, energy for life is a golden opportunity to look at how food and agriculture should be regulated in the 21st Century.
In the past 20 years Italy has made great use of the minimalist non recipe approach of EU food law to become innovative and make Italian food a major hit around the world.
Is that approach changing with EU Regulation 1169/2011 or is there still room for Italian flair and flexibility.
EXPO 2015 is an opportunity for the Italian food industry to promote an Italian approach to food law and in particular to promotion, labelling and advertising.
EXPO 2015 will create a new Italian landscape, building on the old Roman grid of the Cardo and Decumanus, the simplicity of Leonardo’s canals and the magnificence of Italy’s man made rice fields, vineyards, orchards and incomparable countryside. It will be a mix of the old and the new with the country in the city. A fusion of ideas and projects and hopes.
Each pavilion will host the crops and farm products which is each nation’s contribution to the challenge of feeding the world’s population. There will be experimental crops, orchards, gardens, greenhouses, food processing pavilions where visitors will be able to see the entire food cycle for themselves. We will all be invited to think about how we can feed the world and how we want to do so.
So EXPO 2015 will celebrate food. But more than that, it has the ambition to be about how we can ensure the pleasure of food for all. In this sense EXPO 2015 is about food policy. Feeding the planet with the foods we want to eat, produced in the way we consider right, takes thought. Thoughts must lead to policy. And that policy needs to be written down in tablets. And as we all know from the good book, the tablets are the law. No policy outcomes of Milan’s World EXPO 2015 can be achieved without their transposition into laws and practices to reflect the collective ideas that should grow from it.
Over time in Europe, the law of food and agriculture has become more and more dominated by EU law. And EU law on food runs to thousands of pages. And in the Italian law and the number runs to thousands more. There are rules on agricultural production, on transformation of food, on storage and distribution and on consumption and consumer protection.
Looking at how these laws operate in today’s world should be a major theme of EXPO 2015. It is no coincidence that the ways in which the EU and the US approach food law and in particular food safety and food quality will be one of the difficult themes of the upcoming bilateral trade negotiations between the US and the EU, negotiations timed to be completed around the same time as the EXPO will be starting up.
There are so many themes to be addressed. What can we claim about a food? That it is healthy, that it is good for you, that it is better than some other food? Or can we only say that it is low in fat or salts and if we want to say that, what does it mean? What information should we have to put on a food? Should we regulate shelf life?
Should there be restrictions on the advertising of food to certain consumers like children or old people and if so on what basis? Should the state be involved in promoting certain lifestyles and discouraging others? Should certain types of food be subject to the same types of regulation as we see for tobacco and alcohol?
Italy has a thriving food industry and Italian food businesses have been very innovative in exploiting new market niches. Italy leads in dietetic and low gluten food. Laws in this area might either promote these products or restrict innovation. How can you know which rules are useful and appropriate and which ones are not?
There has been an explosion of food law in the last 20 or so years. In 1992 the EU promoted the new approach to food law which left it to the transformers to celebrate the diversity of European food cultures while ensuring that basic health and safety needs were met. This approach has served us well. But are we going too far now in regulating claims and restricting advertising?
The Italian food industry must come together within the context of EXPO 2015 to look at these questions to see if we have the best regulation for the 21st century. And Italy must invite food operators from outside of Italy to participate.
In the meantime we should look to how Italy and other EU member states are to implement those parts of the new EU Food Information Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011) which give room to adopt national rules. These include rules on the protection of public health, the protection of consumers, the prevention of fraud, the protection of industrial and commercial property rights, indications of provenance, registered designations of origin and the prevention of unfair competition the labelling of milk, origin labelling, voluntary labelling, low alcohol content, reference food intakes for specific population groups, the expression of net quantities to name a few, labelling for non-prepacked food. In the last weeks consultations on this have started in Rome.
The food and agricultural sector is the most exciting and dynamic industrial sector in the Italian economy. EXPO 2015 and Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 give room for the Italian and World industry to make its views known as to how the industry should be regulated.