France leads calls to tighten food labelling laws

This weekend French president François Hollande put food labelling for ready meals firmly on a European level. Opening the Salon International de l’Agriculture (SIA) in Paris on Saturday, Hollande declared: “These last few days have seen a lot of questions asked and, not to put it more strongly, fraud, because there was no labelling. In the future, I want to see compulsory labelling on all meats that go into ready meals.

French president François Hollande opens Paris farm show, SIA calling for transparency and openness. Photo credit: Peter Crosskey

The president is challenging assumptions that price-driven corporate food businesses operating through increasingly complex supply chains can be left to their own devices. It is a challenge that runs to the very core of the free trade arguments that cheaper is necessarily better or that what arrives is even as documented. As the supply chain lengthens, so the opportunities for fraud increase.

Writing jointly in the French magazine Nouvelle Observateur, European Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier and European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş supported this position, calling for global governance for agriculture and food production:

When relations with suppliers are limited to speculative [trading] positions, which can be modified with a few keystrokes on a computer, everything is in place for things to go wrong, for a crisis in confidence,” they observed.

As a former French farm minister, Barnier is aware of the complexities in food production. Both he and Ciolos agree that: “This is not an acceptable model for food production, it is not a model for a sector that feeds us, nor for the use of natural resources nor for the future of our rural territories.”

On the contrary, they explain, the CAP should represent a contract of confidence between European citizens and their farmers.This partnership ought to be embodied in a reformed CAP. The budget for this policy has been negotiated and the policy itself should meet all expectations.”

As well as promoting sustainable and fair treatment of agriculture, it should also encourage young people to invest their time and resources in farming, the commissioners argue. Above all, the partnership must be transparent. “We have taken strong measures against speculation and price volatility, discouraging selling on by standardising contracts and registering them centrally … to force operators to reveal the positions that they are taking.”

At a world level, they argue, food trading needs better and firmer governance: a reform of the FAO and a stronger lead from the G20. These are not complex issues: “…we are defending simple realities, starting with a quality food chain first and foremost.”

Find coverage of this story in French: Salon de l’agriculture : la viande de cheval, révélateur d’un modèle inacceptable

Peter Crosskey
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Peter Crosskey is based in the UK.