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Address by the Hon. Minister to the participants in the event ” Against Food ‘Traffic Light’ Labelling and Protectionism

A meeting on the protection of the Italian agrifood industry and the importance of fact-based information on nutrition
Farnesina , 21 April 2017

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)

Madam Minister Lorenzin, Undesecretary of State Scalfarotto, President Scordamaglia, (President of Federalimentare – the
Italian Food & Drink Industry Federation) President Giansanti, (President of Confagricoltura – the Italian General Confederation of Agriculture and  representative of Agrinsieme) Dott. Marcelli, (member of the Board of Coldiretti, the Italian Farmer Association)


“I wish to thank you all for having accepted my invitation to gather here at the Farnesina just a few days after Easter, which I hope you spent happily with your loved ones!

I have convened this meeting with some urgency because I believe it is an important moment to shine a light on the issue of Food ‘Traffic Light’ Labelling. It is a question that interests all of us, both as producers and consumers, the Government and the private sector as well.

As you know, since 2013, when the United Kingdom introduced a ‘Traffic Light’ label for nutritional claims on food, Italy has promptly responded. We highlighted that this kind of labelling was not compatible with the principles of the single market and the relevant EU legislation. We were granted an infringement procedure against the United Kingdom on the grounds of a possible violation of the free movement of goods.

We should continue to watch this carefully to prevent the infringement procedure being stopped. Especially after the EU Commission said to our Ambassador that it is a political question rather than a technical issue. Therefore we must not lower our guard!

Italian politicians need to talk loud and clear to make sure the infringement procedure goes ahead, especially now that several multinational food corporations are lobbying to support traffic light labelling and that some European countries (France and Belgium) have announced they are considering the possibility of adopting similar patterns.

For us the question has remained unchanged. There are too many doubts on “traffic light” labelling. The Italian stance is very clear:

 –       “Traffic Light” labelling is not based on sound and scientifically valid research;

–       It is a system that would mislead consumers;

–       It is a discriminatory system that would hinder the free movement of goods.

Moreover, this system penalises products with registered designation of origin (DOC) and registered geographical indication (IGP)  that are recognised at the European level as food products of the highest quality.

But I ask myself:

How can the three colours, of green, amber and red describe the quality of food?

How can the three colours of green, amber and red describe their origin?

It seems to me as if we are making fun of consumers, but consumers are far more sophisticated and clever.

This system may even get so far as questioning the Mediterranean diet, a UNESCO cultural heritage! It is one of the healthiest diets in the world, made up of a variety of food products that a ‘traffic light’ label on the front of the pack cannot in any way represent!

The paradox is that recently even Bloomberg, in London, ranked Italy first among the healthiest countries in the world, thanks also to the Mediterranean diet.

From the point of view of people’s health, a “traffic light labelling” system would risk unjustly penalising some food products, whose nutritional intake is healthy if consumed in the right quantities. Paradoxically it would favour the consumption of foods that have a lower nutritional value.

This is all due to the ‘simplistic and misleading’ information provided by a traffic light labelling system.

Italy disagrees about the demonisation of certain foods, but supports systems that promote diverse diets and healthy life-styles, where every food can have its proper place.

The approach must be “positive”! Scaring consumers by applying a traffic light label is simply wrong!

Italy can only give a big red light to this initiative!

This is why it is very important to have you all here today. We need to keep on responding with great determination: we must defend a substantial share of our exports; we must protect the perception of quality that characterises “Brand Italy”; we must safeguard the principles on which the single market rests.

Rest assured that the Farnesina will be constantly monitoring this question, which is of interest to both European institutions and the other European capitals, through making our partners aware of the risks entailed by the adoption of ‘traffic light’ labelling. We have been busy working in non-European capitals as well to prevent this system from spreading throughout the world.

In the last few days I have issued clear guidelines to our Permanent Mission in Brussels and to our embassies to strongly defend the Italian position.

We have taken a pro-active stance, not a defensive approach:  I have asked our Mission in Brussels to elaborate alternative proposals, in close cooperation with all the parties concerned, according to the Italian position.

Our efforts are part of a wider and more comprehensive Strategy the Government is developing to promote and protect the Italian agri-food sector throughout the world.

It is a Strategy that would effectively oppose any form of protectionism: from imposing customs duties to indirect measures such as non-tariff barriers of a technical or phytosanitary nature.

It is a teamwork which relies on the indispensable technical contribution of the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies, and Economic Development, with the support of our diplomatic-consular network in the world – in the territory – to promote and protect Made-in-Italy products.

But we need you! We need the vitality of the private sector! We must all say together that protectionism is not the right choice. Trade, for an exporting country such as Italy, is a vital source of growth .

Our exports reached 417 billion euros in 2016, a trade surplus of approx. 52 billion euros.

We should look beyond data and figures: the agr-ifood sector shows the distinctive features of Italian excellence in the world.

Food represents our culture and traditions, that are handed down from generation to generation. It also means identity. It is no coincidence that the saying reads ‘you are what you eat‘ or ‘ tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.


Food is part of our culture and history. It is a very serious matter for us Italians. Beware of those who do not believe this!


It is because of all this that the agrifood sector is a priority in the Situation Room for Internationalisation, co-chaired by the Farnesina and the Ministry of Economic Development (MISE).

But there is more:

– after the Situation Room for Internationalisation adopted the Plan to promote Brand Italy, we allocated almost a third of all resources to the agri-food sector in the past two year.


– we have strongly encouraged the agri-food coordination group to work with institutions and the private sector to support the agri-food sector and together deal with the most critical issues we face when exporting our products.

– we have promoted very high media profile initiatives, such as the Week of Italian Cuisine in the World, which was first held in November and included approx. 1,400 events in 108 Countries around the world. It will be an annual event and we are  preparing already its second edition.

We have developed an integrated programme to promote the Italian agri-food sector. It is through the tools and events I mentioned earlier, that we intend to defend our entrepreneurial excellence and the Italian production pattern, that has always been based on very high quality standards, tradition and innovation.

Food means culture, territory and age-old knowledge. It also represents sustainability and renewal.They are the pillars on which the Italian agri-food sector rests. 

Let me conclude by saying quite frankly that a traffic light is fine in the street, but it has no place when it comes to food!

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