Food products from Israeli-occupied territories must be clearly labelled as such to avoid misleading consumers, the EU's top court ruled on Tuesday, in particular if they come from settlements there.
The European Court of Justice said that, under EU rules on food labelling, it must be clear where products are from so that consumers can make choices based on “ethical considerations and considerations relating to the observance of international law.”
The ruling comes after France's top tribunal asked for clarification of rules on labelling goods from the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, which the international community considers occupied Palestinian land, as well as the Golan Heights, which Israel took from Syria in 1967.
“Foodstuffs originating in the territories occupied by the State of Israel must bear the indication of their territory of origin, accompanied, where those foodstuffs come from an Israeli settlement within that territory, by the indication of that provenance,” the ECJ said, in a statement announcing its decision.
France published guidelines in 2016 saying products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights must carry labels making their precise origin clear, but this was challenged by the Organisation Juive Europeene (European Jewish Organisation) and Psagot, a company that runs vineyards in the occupied territories.
The court said that labelling products as from the “State of Israel” when in fact they come from “territories... occupied by that state and subject to a limited jurisdiction of the latter, as an occupying power within the meaning of international humanitarian law” could mislead consumers.
The court added that the EU's 2011 regulations on labelling the origin of goods are intended to allow consumers to make “informed choices, with regard not only to health, economic, environmental and social considerations, but also to ethical considerations and considerations relating to the observance of international law.”
“The court underlined in that respect that such considerations could influence consumers' purchasing decisions,” the ECJ said.
On the issue of Israeli settlements, the court said they “give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that state outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law.”
As a result, “the omission of that indication, with the result that only the territory of origin is indicated, might mislead consumers,” the court said.
The 2016 French ruling drew an angry response from Israel, which accused Paris of aiding a boycott of the Jewish state promoted by pro-Palestinian activists and of employing double standards by ignoring other territorial disputes around the world.
A major diplomatic row erupted between the EU and Israel in 2015 when Brussels drew up rules that effectively declared that products from settlements had to be labelled as such across the bloc.