A new decree concerning food labeling, and more specifically governing the character size of origin labeling, went into effect August 3rd. Minister Saverio Romano of the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole Alimentari e Forestali (MIPAAF), or Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry Policies, had introduced the new rules in June.

The European Community is working towards similar legislation, but it is still a ways off.

Decree 5464 and Article 1, which focuses on packaged olive oil, states that the place of origin of the oil must be written in legible characters and that it must be written in the same field of vision as the category of oil. Legible means that small letters must average at least 12 millimeters in height (just under 1/2 inch).

For smaller containers, those whose largest side is less than 80 square centimeters (12.4 square inches), the average character size can be smaller, but not less than 9 mm in height. Additionally, the background must not interfere with the reading of the origin label.

Italy produces about 550,000 tons of olive oil and exports 300,000 — yet Italians consume about 800,000 tons — so much of the oil consumed within Italy is foreign. Consumers have often had to hunt for provenance information, and this decree is meant to address the problem of sometimes maddeningly tiny writing. Companies will have 300 days to implement the new labeling standard.

To make it perfectly clear, the Ministry published a guide to characters. The height of “x” is the key.

Editor’s note: There was no indication whether similar rules would be proposed for harvest or “best before” dates.

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