Food Law News - EU - 2000

14 March 2000: CHOCOLATE - Chocolate making still an issue

EP Daily Notebook, 14 March 2000

Chocolate making still an issue

Reporting on the compromise reached in Council designed to allow chocolate made with vegetable fats, as happens in countries such as Ireland and the UK, to circulate freely in the single market, Paul LANNOYE (GREEN/EFA, B), reporting for the Environment Committee said that this approach was still not acceptable since it did not take sufficient account of the producers of cocoa butter from the developing countries. And he added, it ignored the interest of small chocolate makers. Although the vegetable fats authorised must be of tropical origin, under the common position, Mr Lannoye felt this would only encourage the use of cheaper processes involving palm olive and thus adversely affect cocoa producers in Africa since competing manufacturers would be forced to adopt similar processes to remain competitive. Therefore, he urged the House to support amendments, one of which would ban the use of genetically modified raw materials in chocolate while the other would take account of the social and economic impact on the cocoa producing countries.

Marianne THYSSEN (EPP/ED, B) argued that the common position showed the effectiveness of democracy. She believed that the two-fold labelling should appear at the top of the packages and was concerned that an impact study would only take place 2 ½ years after the implementation of the proposal . She also stressed the need for the concerns of the developing countries to be addressed.

Philip WHITEHEAD (PES, East Midlands) believed that the common position represented a real compromise. He stressed the need for safeguards to protect consumers and the primary producers. He considered that the common position was good for both consumers and manufacturers and contended that the quality of the product would argue for itself.

Jules MAATEN (ELDR, Nl) considered that chocolate should not have a "Euro taste" and there was room for diversity. However, he stressed the importance of considering the needs of developing countries. Under the common position, there were no winners or losers and the majority of his group could support it.

Opposition to the common position however came from a number of speakers. For the Greens, Marie Anne ISLER BEGUIN wondered why the definition of chocolate should be changed and considered that consumers " would need a magnifying glass" to read the proposed labelling. She also called for an impact assessment on the effects on producing cocoa producing countries. Yasmine BOUDJENAH for the EUN/NGL group considered that the profit of a few was outweighing the interests of all. Consumer and the ACP countries were extremely concerned, she said. She called for the common position to be rejected. Nicole THOMAS-MAURO for the UEN, stressed that she wanted to be able to buy chocolate according to the traditions of her own country. She did not want this compromise and also called for the needs of developing countries to be protected. Jean Claude MARTINEZ (TGI, F) was extremely unhappy that the UK - "the country that had given rise to BSE"- could be in a position to export its "adulterated chocolate". He believed that the checks proposed would be inadequate and that the common position represented fraud in the respect of chocolate. He too stressed obligations to developing countries and the need for food safety. A similar line was struck by Jean-Louis BERNIE (EDD, F) who believed there was a lack of transparency in the whole process and the common position would lead to unfair competition. This, he said, was a "food con".

Chris DAVIES (ELDR, North West) believed that it was insulting to play semantics with the definition of chocolate. "Let the citizens decide for themselves". He did however also stress that nobody was paying the cocoa growers a fair price at present.

Philip Rodway BUSHILL-MATTHEWS (EPP/ED, West Midlands) took issue with contentions that the only beneficiaries from the new legislation would be the multinational chocolate manufacturers. This was nonsense he said, consumers were also affected and would be given the right to chose. As such, he welcomed the common position as a way forward, recalling that in 1657 a French chocolate manufacturer was given the right to open a shop in London. It is only appropriate that some 350 years later an English manufacturer should be given similar rights to sell his chocolate across the EU.

Defending the common position, Commissioner Margot WALLSTRÖM emphasised that clear labelling would apply and that vegetable fat up to 5 percent would be authorised. The common position had been agreed with a view to taking account of the interest of the cocoa producers not wanting to upset the delicate balance had it been reached after so many years of negotiations. While she could not agree to the amendment on GMO produced raw materials, since this should be part of a separate directive, she could however, go along with the other amendment designed to take up the needs of the developing countries.

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