The 2014 AGM of Assica, the Industrial Meat and Salumi Association, saw the presentation of the Salumi Trasparenti project (www.salumitrasparenti.it), an online platform giving users the chance to use the EAN Code (European Article Number, a single European numerical code printed underneath the bar code and ensures unambiguous product identification. The EAN system is recognised in 99 countries all over the world.) to check the origin of the ingredients in Italian delicatessen meat products. Salumi Trasparenti was set in motion in response to demand for more information that even emerges in the Commission Report (December 2013) to the European Parliament and the European Council dealing with labelling of origin for products that use meat as an ingredient.
The EU study into the indication of origin of meat when used as an ingredient
Last 17 December, the European Commission presented its report examining the advantages and disadvantages of a change in labelling of origin for products that use meat as an ingredient, including cured meats. The impact assessment, based on independent studies, clearly shows that consumers would be interested in knowing the origin of the meat used as an ingredient but are not willing to pay the costs that such additional information would involve as regards the final product.
The framework that emerges highlights an evident contradiction between interest and the willingness to sustain related costs. According to the Commission Report, overall consumer interest in labelling of origin is of less importance than price, quality and sensorial characteristics: a price increase of less than 10% reduces the 'willingness to pay' in order to obtain the information defining origin by 60-80%. In other words, consumers are interested in receiving more information provided that it is provided without any price increase affecting products. A virtually unworkable condition.
Additional costs and impact on consumption
People outside the food production chain, including the salami field, are generally unaware of the additional costs associated with labelling of origin and assume that they only involve the cost of 'a little more ink for printing'.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. This is because the additional element on the label would require a series of actions involved in providing such information (which companies obviously possess, since they have to ensure the traceability of foods and food ingredients). The adaptation of computer systems and, more generally, production systems involved in adding this information to labels in an intelligible manner for consumers would inevitably lead to a significant increase in price for certain products.
According to the above-mentioned independent study carried out by the European Commission, additional costs involved in order to indicate the country of origin of meat frange between 15-20% and 50%, including additional administrative overheads estimated at between 8% and 12% of the total production costs.
These would be absolutely unacceptable increases for companies and consumers alike, especially against the current economic background. In this sense, all products involved in the European research confirm a common factor: if origin labelling were to become compulsory and caused an increase in prices for consumers, then consumption of food using meat as an ingredient could fall.
In order to find a solution that does not involve price increases for consumers but which meets their interest in knowing the origin of the meat as an ingredient, Italy is home to the first project involving an entire sector: a platform providing this information for free and without any additional costs.
The platform: how it works
Salumi Trasparenti will be on-line by next Autumn and will offer a simple, fast and free verification of data detailing may pre-sliced meat products on the market by entering the EAN code in the system. This will provide information including the place of production and the country of origin of the raw material and only involves few steps.
Product data cards are available simply by entering the code in the site's search engine or by reaching the product in questions from a producer's link.
In coming months, sector companies will begin to compile the data for the delicatessen meats we buy every day. Once the first data entry stage is completed, it will be possible to send queries to the system. It will even be possible to search the database while making purchases after downloading a free App (iOS and Android), simply by framing their bar codes with the camera of such devices: the product data card will be automatically shown.
After the first experiments in this direction published by the distribution sector, Salumi Trasparenti is the first Europe-wide project involving an entire sector: the delicatessen meat sector is in Italy is worth almost 8 billion euros, of which more than one billion generated by exports.
In addition to the search engine for products in the database, the Salumi Trasparenti platform is equally a tool going deeper into the Italian delicatessen meat sector thanks to informative sections such as 'What and why we import', that explains the dynamics behind the supply of ingredients from abroad and how they are selected, and 'Labelling', which collects information to help consumers understand food labels and thereby learn something more about the products we buy. A service site which aims to bring companies and consumers closer together with the common goal of providing useful data without any economic impact, thereby help both sides to clear away misunderstandings and misinformation.
National ingredients, imports and 'made in...'
Italy, apart from certain fields, is a country with a structural deficit in terms of agricultural raw materials. The food industry processes all national raw materials but overall there is a shortfall of about 30% in relation to the needs of such processors. By way of example, Italy imports about 45% of its milk, 60% wheat flour, 40% durum wheat flour, 90% soya and 40% beef. These are joined by products that cannot be cultivated in Italy, such as cocoa or coffee.
In this context, the Italian delicatessen meat chain uses all the meat produced in the country but this covers only 60-65% of the sector's requirements. This is why Italy imports from EU partners (Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, Spain, etc.) about 35/40% of the pork used to make delicatessen products. It is a structural situation that arises from the country's inherent limitations.
The meat produced in Italy from heavyweight pigs (160/180 kg) and the meat produced in Europe with lightweight pigs (90/110 Kg) naturally have different qualitative, technological and price characteristics.
Preparing PDO hams and other products with a protected designation of origin means that only 'home grown' meat can be used. Other delicatessen meats made in Italy can use domestic or imported ingredients (or a mix of both). The choice depends on the different characteristics of the finished product, in terms of quality and sensorial features (i.e. more or less fat around boiled or cured ham, more or less lean-meat content in a mixture) as well as price for end consumers.
Nonetheless, the safety of products and ingredients is absolutely assured. This is an absolute prerequisite for the industry. Health regulations are the same throughout Europe. There are additional national and European controls that companies implement for the meat used (as well as all the other ingredients used in Italian cured meats), not to mention the national health safety system and its activities including verification and analysis of raw materials and finished products.
The industry's mission is to offer consumers in Italy and world-wide delicatessen meats made in Italy in a good and safe manner with a price/quality ratio that meets the needs of every individual customer.
Source: Assica Press Office - Industrial Meat and Salumi Association
Assica - Industrial Meat and Salumi Association, is the national organisation that, within the context of Confindustria, represents pig slaughtering and pork processing companies. Activities carried out by Assica within the framework of its institutional purposes cover various areas, including the definition of economic policies in the sector, information and assistance for 160 associates in economic/business, health, regulatory, technical, legal and trade union fields. Expertise, a collaborative approach and reliability are assured by specialist personnel and supported by participation in various association organisations on a national and Eu scale. In fact, since its foundation in 1946, Assica has always distinguished itself for a strong associative spirit, as highlighted by its membership of Confindustria (from its year of foundation), Federalimentare, the Italian Federation of Food Industries (as a founding member) and Clitravi, the European Federation that brings together national associations of meat processors (which it helped set up in 1957).