25th of October is World Pasta Day, a celebration of pasta brought into existence by the World Pasta Congress held in Rome in 1995, with the purpose of promoting this staple ingredient of Mediterranean cuisine.

This question posed by this year’s edition is: “What is pasta going to look like in 30 years?”

Another question which may well have been asked however is, what is pasta anyway?

With many cheap pasta brands out there – often made with soft wheat flour rather than 100% durum - the question of what can and what cannot be considered pasta under Italian law is increasingly being asked.

Italian Purity Pasta Law (Italian Decree of 26 July 2017)

It goes without saying that, when it comes to pasta, Italy leads the world and the “Made in Italy” mark is synonymous with quality food. In fact, Italian food is most exposed to food fraud, as reported in the last Food Fraud Report published by FOCOS. This is why Italy has been more concerned than other countries to introduce laws aimed at protecting one of its most iconic dishes.

The first Italian law governing pasta dates back to 4 July 1967, and was a “Regulation for the manufacturing and marketing of cereals, milling products, bread and pasta”.

Later amendments were made to this law in order to comply with EU Regulations aimed at introducing specific information to food labelling, including the origin of the main ingredients.

In particular, at the EU level, EU Regulation No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, stipulates that the country of origin labelling regime is mandatory only for specific foods or categories of food, such as honey, fruit and vegetables, fish (not fish products), beef and beef products, olive oil, wine, eggs and imported poultry.

These provisions however fail to provide satisfactory solutions as consumers increasingly demand more information about the origins of their food. Furthermore, they are likely to allow the inclusion of misleading information on food labels as well as food fraud.

For these reasons, in 2017 Italy adopted a Decree (26 July 2017, No. 191/2017) aimed at including the country of origin of primary ingredients on all types of durum wheat pasta labels. This measure has experimental character until 30 September 2020 and its effects will cease when rules at EU level are adopted.

According to Art. 1 of the Decree, the new legislation will apply to domestic producers of all types of durum wheat pasta but not to fresh and stabilised pasta nor to milling products and pasta destined for exportation to other EU Member States, providing that they are not harmful and the manufacturer sends in advance a registered letter to the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry.

The label of dry pasta shall indicate: a) the country of cultivation of wheat, and b) the country of the flour.

If those operations are realized in more than one country, the origin can be indicated by adding the wordings: “EU”; “non EU”; “EU and non-EU”. However, if at least 50% of the durum wheat has been cultivated in one country, it is possible to indicate the name of this country followed by “other EU and/or non-EU countries".

Failing to provide this information is punishable with a fine of up to €9,500.

Although this Decree was immediately challenged by a number of Italian pasta producers who feared it would mean further expense in pasta production, its validity has been upheld by the Italian Administrative Court.

Future guidelines from the EU Commission

Off the back of successful campaigns such as the European Citizens' Initiative ‘Eat ORIGINal! Unmask your food, it is likely that pasta won’t be the only food stuff that needs to begin highlighting information on the origins of ingredients. The petition, which ended earlier in October, was launched by the Italian Farmers Union, Coldiretti, and backed by a group of eleven partner organizations within the EU in countries including France, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Poland). Its main purpose was to highlight consumers` demands for more transparency on the content and composition of food products circulating in the EU.

As required by the European Citizens' Initiative Regulation, the petition has been signed by more than one million of citizens, representing at least one quarter of EU Member States. Thus, within the next three months, the European Commission will need to consider a legislative proposal to adopt measures similar to those taken by pasta producers for all food products valid through the EU market.

Although the Commission isn’t obliged to follow the request, it will nevertheless be required to explain its reasoning.

It will be interesting to follow this matter to find out which approach will be taken.