Food Packaging : France’s Article 80 to derail US fruit and vegetable exports

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A French ban on produce stickers may threaten US fruit and vegetable exports.

Sweet potatoes worth $20 million dollars and grapefruits worth $8 million dollars in annual sales belong to the affected segment.

The ban will be implemented as of Jan 1, 2022.

Should this piece of legislation be enforced in its current form, US exporters will only be able to sell sweet potatoes and grapefruit without any labels attached to them.

Stickers affixed to US produce destined for overseas markets serve identification purposes but also help denote particular brands.

“Without a sticker it is nearly impossible to differentiate between an organic golden delicious apple produced in France and a normal golden delicious apple imported when both are sold in bulk,” the report said.

“The lack of stickers could lead marketers of higher quality products (including organic products) to move away from bulk sales and sell their products packaged. This rule therefore could paradoxically increase packaging, the opposite of its goal.”

The law in question comes as part and parcel of France’s transition to a circular economy. Passed in February 2020, the anti-waste law bill which contains the controversial specifications regarding fresh produce (‘Article 80’) also addressed the elimination of single-use plastics, a possible reduction in waste volume coupled with an increased investment in recycling as well as the potential prohibition of consumer goods with an intentionally finite lifespan.

The issue with the produce stickers is their non-biodegradable nature. Whilst the paper used for labelling is home compostable, the adhesive used to stick them onto produce is not.

Several sources state that the produce sticker ban is intended as a quid pro quo after a plastic packaging ban for dairy products was overturned due to lobbying efforts by French dairy firms.

To Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain and chain and sustainability for the Produce Marketing Association, home compostable produce stickers still represent a significant challenge to the food industry.

“While some home compostable labels are currently available, they are only appropriate for a limited number of items, as the adhesive is not sufficient for many produce items," he explained.

"Many label companies are currently working on the development of a label that is home compostable that will be appropriate for all fruits and vegetables.”

Fully compostable food stickers will become commercially available, yet the process make take 3-5 years, according to Treacy.

Meanwhile, Article 80 may cause havoc in European markets. The resulting logistical issues would prevent US produce on its way to another European country from being rerouted to France. This development is expected to limit the supply of US grapefruits and sweet potatoes available to the country.

Multiple French fruit and vegetable organizations have asked parliament to amend Article 80 as a technical solution to the produce sticker problem is still long to come, yet these efforts have remained fruitless so far.

Because of the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic, Article 80 remained unnoticed by most of the French fruit and vegetable sector until later in 2020.