EU adopts new labelling system in fight against caviar smuggling | WWF

EU adopts new labelling system in fight against caviar smuggling

Posted on 15 May 2006
A kilogram of beluga caviar can sell for as much as US$7,000.
© WWF / Edward Parker

Brussels, Belgium – The European Commission has announced new rules regarding the trade and sale of caviar. The new regulation will apply to all caviar made from sturgeons, regardless whether they are wild-sourced or farmed.

In effect, the ruling requires that all caviar containers in the EU market are marked with a label that contains a specific set of information and that will allow retailers and consumers to identify the legal source of the product.

WWF and TRAFFIC believe this will be an important tool to combat the illegal trade in the rare and highly-sought after luxury food, that has led to overexploitation and significant population declines of sturgeon species in most waters in Eurasia.

The EU is the first among the major caviar consumer markets that have fully implemented the universal caviar labelling requirements agreed by Parties of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) three years ago.

The new Commission Regulation requires that all caviar that is imported and then re-packaged to be sold in the EU's domestic market is labelled with a label that contains a specific set of information such as the year of harvest or re-packaging, the registration number of the processing or repackaging plant and the country of origin.

"All EU Member States need to now ensure that the new regulations are fully implemented and that traders are using adequate labels," said Stephanie Theile, Acting Director of TRAFFIC's Europe programme. "For example, the label must seal the container so that it can not be used more than once."

The EU is the largest importer of caviar. Between 1998 and 2003 the EU legally, imported 550 tonnes of caviar, corresponding to 46% of the total global trade. During that period (1998-2003), the volumes of caviar reported in international trade per year plummeted from 300 tonnes in 1998 to 100 tonnes in 2003. In 2004 and 2005, CITES authorized export of 121 and 97 tonnes respectively and for 2006 only 53.

"Illegal trade in caviar in the EU is significant. Between 2000 and 2005 at least 12 tonnes of smuggled caviar were seized," said Theile. "However, this is only the tip of the iceberg and actual levels of illegal caviar trade are significantly higher."

Everybody from caviar importers and exporters, to wholesalers and retailers in Europe need to be aware of the new labelling requirements as they enter into force in Mid June.

"It is now crucial that the CITES Authorities in each Member State work closely with caviar traders and inform the general public about the new labelling system for caviar," Theile added. "This will ultimately allow also consumers to distinguish between legal and illegal caviar products."

In support of these efforts, the European Commission will host an international workshop from June 27-29 June that will bring together more than 100 government officials and other law enforcement experts from key caviar producing and consuming countries to discuss ways to combat illegal trade in caviar. TRAFFIC is assisting in the organisation of this workshop by providing expert advice and support to the European Commission.

The new caviar labelling rules are part of the new Commission Regulation replacing the existing Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1808/2001 laying down detailed rules concerning the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein that was adopted in 2001.

For futher information:
Stephanie Theile, Acting Director, TRAFFIC Europe, tel. +32 2 3438258, email:
Maija Sirola, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC, tel. +44 1223 277427, email:
Joanna Benn, WWF Communications Manager, Global Species Programme, tel. +39 06 84497 212 email:

A kilogram of beluga caviar can sell for as much as US$7,000.
© WWF / Edward Parker Enlarge