27th Jan 2020

Food labelling law turns into war of languages

A French law on food labelling has come into a direct conflict with an EU rule, where both determine in what language food products are to be labelled. The French are keen to maintain their 1994 law, which requires the use of French on labels and advertisements. The EU however wants foreign products sold in Europe’s common market, to carry their original name.

The European Court of Justice ruled two years ago that France's language law was in defiance of EU rules. However, only last week, the French secretary of state for trade, Renaud Dutreil, issued a decree saying that from now on, chicken wings will simply be labelled chicken wings on the packaging, and spare ribs will be spare ribs, the Washington Post reported. The decree says that since the products will be labelled in their original language, supermarkets should put a label in French on their shelves.

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This move was received coldly by France, who sees English becoming a dominant language in EU. Since the last EU enlargement brought in Sweden, Finland and Austria as new members, English has more and more become the working language of the union; French has found itself in rapid decline. The slide is likely to become even greater if an additional 10 countries, mostly in Eastern Europe, achieve their hopes to join the union by 2004.

"It's going to be necessary to speak English to go shopping" was the headline in the Tuesday edition of the daily Le Parisien. Consumer groups have joined the resistance, arguing that French consumers, ever convinced there are dangers in the artificial or genetically modified ingredients breaching the barricades, have a right to have all content labels printed clearly in French.

EU officials in Brussels, however, say they cannot understand what all the fuss is about. "We are merely speaking about the name, not the contents," said Gilles Gantelet, an official of the European Commission and himself a Frenchman, the Washington Post said.

Francis Choisel, Président de l'Alliance pour la Souveraineté de la France, called on French consumers to boycot food, which is not labelled in French.

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