Lawyers for a French Jewish organisation and a vineyard producing wine from lands occupied by Israel since 1967 have suffered a setback on the labelling of products.
It follows the publication of a written opinion from an advocate-general at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), who ruled in favour of the French state for requiring that settlement products be labelled as such.
The legal opinion from such a high-ranking judge is a huge setback for companies operating in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which had sought to sell their products in Europe as “Made in Israel”.
Advocate-General Gerrard Hogan opinion sided with the French Finance Ministry over lawyers for the Organisation Juive Européenne and Vignoble Psagot Ltd, a company specialising in vineyards located in territories occupied by Israel.
The labelling case concerns the interpretation of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers.
Hogan said EU states were required to label settlement produce as coming from occupied land because not doing so “might mislead the consumer as to the true country of origin or place of provenance of the food”.
The role of an advocate-general’s Opinion is to advise the CJEU, whose own role is to ensure EU law is interpreted and applied in every EU country, and it was noteworthy that the claimants’ lawyers tried to rely on a UK Supreme Court decision from 2014.
This case (Richardson v DPP) concerned a protest at an Israeli cosmetics store in London selling Dead Sea mineral products as ‘Made in Israel,’ when in fact they were made in a settlement in the West Bank.
The Supreme Court was asked whether the Israeli store had engaged “in a commercial practice which is a misleading action” by its labelling, and therefore fallen foul of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.
The justices ended up agreeing with a district court judge, who had said no laws were broken because the number of consumers who would care whether the Dead Sea mineral products were from Israel or the West Bank was too small.
“Whether or not the information given is false… I consider that the number of people whose decision whether or not to buy a supposedly Israeli product would be influenced by knowledge of its true provenance would fall far below the number required for them to be considered as the ‘average consumer’,” said the judge.
Hogan was unimpressed, however. In his judgement, “some reasonably well informed, and reasonably observant and circumspect consumers may regard [Israel’s illegal occupation of land] as an ethical consideration that influences their consumer preferences and in respect of which they may require further information”.