Likely to be in force across the EU in 2014 except for the mandatory “nutrition declaration” required in 2016, the “Regulation on the Provision of Food information to consumers” will consolidate and extend existing food/ nutrition labelling rules. Country of origin and distance sales are two other areas set for changes as Mark Smith reports.
Who: European Parliament
When: 29 September 2011
Law stated as at: 4 November 2011
The European Union Council of Ministers has adopted a new regulation on the "provision of food information to consumers" or the "Food Information Regulation" or "FIR" for short. Its main objective according to the Council is to "enable consumers to make balanced and healthier dietary choices."
The FIR consolidates existing food labelling legislation, but also introduces some interesting new requirements, some of which are outlined below.
Country of origin
At present, the country of origin of certain foods, including beef, fish, honey and olive oil, already have to be shown on the product label.
The FIR extends country of origin labelling to cover meat from poultry, pigs, sheep and goats.
It should also be noted that the European Commission will be looking into the possibility of widening the country of origin requirements to other types of food such as processed meat and milk products in the next couple of years or so.
Mandatory nutritional information
Another consequence of the FIR is that labels on packaged food in Europe will have to provide energy, carbohydrate, sugar, fat, saturated fat, protein and salt levels in a tabular form. This information must be given per 100g or 100ml.
A minimum font size of 1.2mm has been set, except for small packets where the minimum size is 0.9mm. This will help to ensure that labels are clear.
The "traffic light" system popular with some UK retailers was not made mandatory, and neither was providing Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) information, although it is of course open to producers to go above and beyond the FIR requirements.
Furthermore, the nutritional information will not have to be printed on the front of packages, which drew criticism from some consumer groups.
Note that alcoholic beverages will be provisionally exempt from the nutritional labelling requirements to give the European Commission time to investigate this product group in more detail.
Under the FIR details of any allergenic ingredients, such as peanuts or milk, will have to be provided for both packaged and non-packaged foods, including those sold in restaurants and cafes. On pre-packed foods they must be highlighted in the list of ingredients.
It is worth noting that the FIR applies to distance sales, so companies that sell food products online or via catalogues will have to provide this information before a consumer makes their purchase. So many producers and manufacturers will have to make changes to their websites and distance sales literature as well as the packaging of their products.
Why this matters:
The new requirements will be phased in gradually, giving food manufacturers and retailers plenty of time to plan changes to their packaging. Most of the new rules will likely come into force in late 2014, with the requirement to provide certain nutritional information likely to come into force in 2016.
Despite this long lead time, the changes are still likely to lead to not insignificant costs for many businesses in this area, which will have to review and likely revise their packaging, websites and distance sales materials. Food manufacturers, distributors and retailers will also need to review supplier contracts to ensure that where appropriate there is an obligation to supply the required information.