An EU-wide survey reveals the Maltese have poor knowledge of food quality labels

Know your food origin labels? Probably not

A Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium quality control chief checks a wheel of Reggiano cheese, in Bibbiano, Italy. Across Europe, dozens of food products - from Greek feta cheese to Britain’s Jersey Royal potatoes - have EU trademark protection
A Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium quality control chief checks a wheel of Reggiano cheese, in Bibbiano, Italy. Across Europe, dozens of food products - from Greek feta cheese to Britain’s Jersey Royal potatoes - have EU trademark protection

An EU survey on the logos designating food quality has revealed poor knowledge of their significance across the continent, but ignorance was even more pronounced in Malta.

While a third of the Maltese recognise the Fair Trade logo, which confirms that food was sourced from producers in developing countries at a fair price, only one in every 20 recognise the Protected Designation of Origin logo, which confirms that a particular food item derives from a specific region or country in Europe.

A total of 508 Maltese nationals were interviewed for the survey.

Only about one in 10 of consumers were aware of the label which distinguishes food items grown organically, through farming methods which do not allow pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified organisms, and growth hormones.

Awareness of the Fair Trade logo varies widely across the EU. Respondents in the Netherlands (88%), Sweden (86%), Luxembourg (84%) and Austria (82%) are the most likely to be aware of this logo, compared to 3% in Romania, Spain and Bulgaria.  The Maltese (33%) are four points below the EU average when it comes to recognising this logo.

The organic farming logo has the highest awareness among respondents in Luxembourg (58%), Sweden (54%) and Lithuania (47%), particularly when compared to those in Romania (9%), Portugal (11%) and Malta (12%).

Respondents in France (45%), Italy (32%) and Greece (31%) are the most likely to be aware of the protected designation of origin logo, while those in Romania, Malta, the United Kingdom and Denmark (all 5%) are the least likely to be so.

Those in France (38%), Italy (33%) and the Czech Republic (30%) are the most likely to be aware of the protected geographical indication logo, particularly when compared to those in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands (both 6%) and Denmark (7%).

The traditional speciality guaranteed logo has the highest awareness amongst respondents in the Czech Republic (30%), Lithuania (29%), Greece and Slovakia (both 27%), and the lowest amongst those in the Netherlands, Denmark (both 6%), the United Kingdom and Germany (both 8%). 10% of the Maltese are aware of this logo.

What the labels mean

The Fair Trade mark is a registered certification label for products sourced from producers in developing countries issued by the independent Fairtrade International

On the other hand all other labels assessed in the survey are issued by the EU.

These include three European Union schemes of geographical indications and traditional specialties, known as protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSG).

For a product to be PDO it must be prepared, processed and produced within a certain geographical region and entirely by traditional means (of which there are detailed guidelines).

Italy has 138 PDO foods including “Traditional” Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, several varieties of garlic, pancetta, prosciutto and oils, many cheeses, potatoes from Bologna and San Marzano tomatoes.

Other examples of PDO products are Champagne from a region with the same name in France and beef from the island of Orkney.

The most popular type of product listed among PDOs is cheese, with 165 types under protection, from feta to a Swedish cheese called Svecia. The second most popular is olive oil, with 97 listings.

A bit less stringent than PDO, PGI status means that the item was prepared, processed or produced at least in part, in a traditional way within a certain geographic location.

Some examples would be the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, several varieties of fruits, vegetables and nuts including Sicily’s red oranges and Cornish pastry from Cornwall in the UK.

TSG means only that the item has a “specific character” that distinguishes it from other products because it was made by traditional means.

Pizza Napoletana is one of the few Italian foods with a TSG certification.

The organic food label ensures that those growing it complied with strict EU rules based on a strict control system with checks carried out at every stage of the organic chain.

Every operator (farmer, processor, trader, importer or exporter) is checked at least once a year, or more often on the basis of risk assessment.

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