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Greek officials have reportedly charged seven people with criminal fraud and money laundering related to the sale of adulterated olive oil. The group allegedly added green dyes to sunflower seed oil then sold it off-market as extra-virgin olive oil. Most of the oil was sold in Greece or exported to Germany and other EU countries using invoices that were later destroyed. The Greek police reportedly became aware of the sale of adulterated oil when olive oil producers told the Hellenic Food Authority that their producer codes were being used on packages and products they did not sell.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has issued a ruling that may result in price-fixing fines of up to $5 million for 18 endive producers alleged to have created a “complex and continuous cartel” intended to enforce minimum producer prices. President of the Autorité de la concurrence v. Assoc. des producteurs vendeurs d’endives, No. C-671/15 (E.C.R., entered November 14, 2017). The dispute began in 2007 after French officials for consumer affairs and fraud prevention referred an investigation of industry practices to the French Competition Authority (FCA). After an appeals court reversal holding that the producers had not engaged in price-fixing, FCA brought an appeal in cassation; that court stayed proceedings and asked the ECJ for a preliminary ruling on the matter. ECJ held that practices related to the collective fixing of prices, control of products or exchanges of strategic trade information violate the Treaty on the Functioning…

Amid trade negotiations among the European Union, Japan and Mexico, American manufacturers and winemakers have urged the United States to exert influence on the issue of geographical indicators. In October 2017, a group of food and beverage producers—including the California Wine Institute—asked the Trump administration to express concerns to Mexico and Japan about limiting the use of common names and terms. While the organizations do not object to the protection of some geographical indicators, such as “Idaho Potatoes” or “Parmigiano Reggiano,” the EU “has been aggressively seeking to confiscate generic terms that derive from part of the protected name or are otherwise in common usage, such as ‘parmesan,’” the letter argued. In response, a group of U.S. wine growers has urged the Trump administration to encourage Japan and Mexico to allow the protection of wine place names. "While we are fully aware of the controversial nature of place names in the…

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has determined that member states cannot invoke the “precautionary principle” to restrict the cultivation and sale of crops developed from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) if the European Commission has not determined that the crops “are likely to constitute a serious risk to human health, animal health or the environment.” Case C-111/16, Italy v. Fidenato (E.C.J., entered September 13, 2017). The ruling responded to a request from an Italian court overseeing the prosecution of three farmers accused of growing GMO maize in violation of Italian law. The district court judge stayed the criminal proceedings to ask the ECJ whether Italy had the authority to ban the crop despite EC approval of its cultivation and sale. In 2013, Italy asked the European Commission to adopt emergency measures allowing member states to apply a “precautionary principle” and implement risk-management measures where “the possibility of harmful effects on…

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has reportedly indicated the EU will issue guidelines discouraging companies from selling apparently identical food products across Europe but using inferior ingredients in the foods sold in the eastern part of the continent. The Czech Republic's agriculture minister has asserted that his country is Europe's "garbage can" because companies produce their foods with cheaper ingredients but sell them with identical branding. Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia have also objected to the practice, which multiple studies have purportedly confirmed. Juncker reportedly said the EU would issue guidelines on how to interpret existing rules in September 2017 and did not rule out further legislation to combat the discrimination. See Reuters, July 27, 2017.   Issue 642

Members of the European Parliament have backed by a 559 to 31 vote, with 26 abstentions, a non-binding resolution asking the EU to “further harmonize the safety requirements for food contact materials [FCMs], which are largely used in everyday life in the form of food packaging, kitchen utensils and tableware.” According to a news release, “Only four out of listed 17 food contact materials are currently covered by specific safety measures foreseen in existing EU framework legislation: plastics, ceramics, regenerated cellulose and ‘active and intelligent’ materials.” In particular, the report on the implementation of the Food Contact Materials Regulation ((EC) No 1935/2004) calls on the Commission to consider identifying bisphenol A (BPA) as one of the substances classified as a substance of very high concern (SVHC) under REACH regulations. It also asks the European Commission to prohibit the use of bisphenol S (BPS) in FCMs “as a substitute for Bisphenol…

France has reportedly passed a ban on plastic cups, knives, forks and plates as part of an ecological initiative, Energy Transition for Green Growth. The prohibition, which takes effect in 2020, targets the nearly 5 billion plastic cups discarded annually in France. The country is reportedly the first to target plastic dishware. A Brussels-based organization representing European packaging manufacturers, Pack2Go Europe, has reportedly vowed to fight the ban to prevent similar measures from passing in other European countries. “We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law,” Pack2Go Europe Secretary General Eamonn Bates told The Associated Press. “If they don’t, we will.” See Associated Press, September 12, 2016; The Local, September 13, 2016.   Issue 617

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled in favor of the European Union in a dispute over Russia’s 2014 ban on the import of live pigs, fresh pork and other pig products following cases of African Swine Fever in some EU regions. The ban violated WTO rules on restricting trade based on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the organization concluded. In an August 19, 2016, press release, the European Commission admitted that many of the products covered by the prohibition continue to be “restricted by a politically motivated ban imposed on EU agri-food products by Russia,” but noted that “the panel’s findings are of systemic importance, since they remind Russia about its international obligations and the fact that these cannot be arbitrarily ignored.” See EU Press Release, August 19, 2016.   Issue 615

One day after U.K. citizens voted to leave the European Union, Samuel Adams® brewer Boston Beer Co. filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register “Brexit” for use on hard cider products. U.S. Trademark Application Serial No. 87083390 (filed June 24, 2016). Two other applications for Brexit marks were filed the same day in the categories of dietary supplements and clothing. A Boston Beer Co. spokesperson reportedly declined to detail the company’s plans for its Brexit mark. See The Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2016.   Issue 610

A new report issued by the European Commission advocates that the European Parliament take action on trans fat levels in foods by introducing (i) a mandatory label for foods with trans fat, (ii) legislation setting a limit on allowable trans fat content, (iii) voluntary agreements to reduce trans fat content, or (iv) guidance for national legal limits on trans fats in food. The report analyzes each option, noting possible benefits and drawbacks. “Mandatory [trans fat] labeling would serve two purposes: (i) to provide incentives to the industry towards reducing [trans fat] from food products and (ii) to enable consumers to make informed food choices,” the report explains, noting the labels would have a limited impact if consumer awareness of the negative effects associated with trans fat is low. The report further finds that a legal limit on allowable trans fat content would provide the highest public health benefits, but an…

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