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food labelling - The new rules

7 July 2011

The European Parliament yesterday approved new EU food labelling rules.  The new rules, aimed at helping consumers make healthier, more informed choices will also benefit the food industry.  MEP Renate Sommer yesterday claimed that the rules will create “more legal certainty, less bureaucracy and better legislation in general”.

Compulsory Nutrition Labelling

The energy content and amount of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt is to be stated in legible tabular form on the packaging, together and in the same field of vision.  The information must be expressed per 100ml or 100g.  It may also, additionally, be stated per portion though this is not mandatory.

ManyUKmanufacturers may already be compliant with the new rules, being led by major supermarkets to provide the relevant information voluntarily for many years now at the demand of consumers.

Guideline Daily Amounts and traffic light colour coding have not been made compulsory, though this is not necessarily off the cards.  Many think this is the best way for the information to be conveyed to consumers and such practices may continue provided they are not made compulsory and they are additional to the minimum standard.

Allergens

Allergen information will in future not only have to be indicated in the ingredient list on food labels but must be highlighted to make it easier for consumers to see “at a glance”.

The new rules extend the requirement in relation to allergen information to non-packaged foods.  TheUKgovernment must establish how this information is provided to consumers.

Country of Origin

Mandatory country of origin labelling has been extended to include fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry.  The origin of certain other foods must already be shown including beef, olive oil and honey.

This could be extended further in the future but the Commission is first required to do impact assessments to consider the feasibility and potential costs involved.

‘Imitation Foods’ and Misleading Consumers

Where an ingredient normally expected has been replaced this must be clearly stated on the front of the pack next to the brand name.  Additionally a meat or fish product consisting of combined meat or fish parts must be labelled ‘formed meat’ or ‘formed fish’ respectively.

Other rules are also being introduced to ensure consumers are not misled by the presentation or description of a product.

Food companies will have 3 years from the date the legislation is published to comply with most of the rules, but 5 years in relation to nutrition labelling.

Just how useful the new rules will be to consumers remains to be seen.  Standardising labels should make easier reading but not necessarily better understanding, and permitting the voluntary use of various other systems may mean there is little change front of pack.

For the industry there is now a mandatory standard by which to adhere.  Each business should consider its own circumstances and exactly what the new rules mean to them.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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