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It's country of origin labelling exam time

By Clare Cheney , 02-Jan-2013
Last updated on 04-Jan-2013 at 12:24 GMT

In 2013 food labelling will again be a major preoccupation. But country of origin labelling (COOL) will not play a part. Anyone who thought they might have understood the implications will have a rude awakening if they see the European Commission (EC) list of questions for stakeholder consultation and data collection for a: 'Study on the application of rules on voluntary labelling of foods and on the mandatory indication of country of origin or place of provenance of meat used as an ingredient'.

The introduction explains the purpose: to assist organisations in collecting information and costs and feasibility of the various options for COOL voluntary or mandatory. All very laudable, until you read the rest of it.

Could it have been produced by academics? Yes, it could and was. The questions read like a final BSc exam paper. You hear the clock ticking and feel the blind panic setting in when you've read the paper five times and still don't understand the questions.

Then you wake up with a jump to discover it isn't a real exam but a consultation that it is not mandatory to answer at all. Panic recedes to be replaced by ecstatic amusement at the ridiculousness of it all. Its sheer size 14 pages and 37 questions and complexity renders the questionnaire incapable of resumé. Here is an example of a question.

'Please try to estimate the following specific additional costs (the overall cost will be equal to their sum) and provide further explanation of the adaptations that would be needed for each option. Using examples of key products in your sectors, please indicate impact on the cost for a unit of the final product, (ie euros per kilogram, per one, per pack, etc). If this is not possible, please indicate increase (%) in total product cost stemming from each of the potential costs below:' One of seven potential costs described that gives a flavour of the rest is 'implementation/adaptation of traceability.'

Any organisation trying to respond would need to obtain input from its members of which few, if any, will have time to do the research involved. That could mean the overall returns are insufficient to enable meaningful analysis and the conclusions may depart from the practicability in the real world of manufacturing and trading.

We have to question why the EC is paying academics to do this type of study, which is not an academic issue but a practical one? Although the questions appear to be very precise, the arbitrariness of the answers, if any, could lead to arbitrary conclusions that are of little help to anyone.

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