Food Labelling Regulations are Changing in December 2014!
The food industry has experienced a number of years of unprecedented regulatory change. After seeing the EU regulate to limit the types and scope of health and nutrition claims that could be made about products, the EU has now turned its attentions to the rest of the label.
While food businesses will be very familiar with the existing labelling regime, from December 2014 a new era begins with the Food Information to Consumers Regulations (FIC) coming into force.
The EU FIC Regulations apply the same labelling standards across the entire EU. This has advantages in that there can be very few local differences to cause difficulty for those operating in many member states, however it also means that those local differences are not necessarily catered for as they previously were.
The FIC Regulations bring together the plethora of EU rules on general foodstuffs and nutrition labelling with the purpose of streamlining and simplifying current legislation into one set of Regulations and making it easier to understand. Many of the requirements of the FIC are similar to those that currently exist, but there are some that are entirely new and food businesses will need to be aware of.
The FIC expands the existing mandatory information which must be on all pre-packed food products, this includes:
- The name of the food
- The list of ingredients
- Any ingredient or processing aid causing allergies or intolerances used in the manufacture or preparation of the food and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form
- The quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients
- The net quantity of the food
- The date of minimum durability or the ‘use by’ date
- Any special storage conditions and/or conditions of use
- The name or business name and address of the food business operator
- The country of origin or place of provenance for certain products
- Instructions for use where it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions
- A nutrition declaration (although this obligation doesn’t become mandatory until 2016 unless businesses chose to voluntarily to apply a declaration).
This requirement is a significant extension from the current regime with new rules for the provision of country of origin information and from 2016 (unless triggered by including certain information on the pack already) nutrition declarations are made mandatory on all pre-packed foods.
While superficially the rules appear easy to follow at headline level the devil really is in the detail. Each area is sadly far more complicated than it seems and while this was sold as the one-stop-shop for food labelling law the reality is that the EU is required by FIC to make a vast array of further legislation in specific areas such as country of origin labelling. It also has the discretion to make additional rules in another 10 areas.
Minimum font size
One of the biggest practical challenges is that the mandatory information on the pack must be a particular size. Under the current regime the requirement is that the information is legible and FIC goes further by defining what that actually means.
It requires that all mandatory information must be in font at least 1.2mm in height, which may create space conflicts between regulatory compliance and marketing messages and the ‘must have versus the nice to have’ messages.
There are exceptions for smaller packages where the largest face is under 80cm² where the required font size is reduced to 0.9mm and for packaging that is less than 10cm² where the information required is less again.
This change means that in some cases a complete redesign of the packaging will be required in order to ensure that all of the necessary information is provided.
The way that allergens are now to be declared has been one of the most highly controversial changes. For pre-packed foods this means that the widely used allergen boxes are no longer acceptable. Food businesses must now highlight the allergenic ingredient within the ingredient list using bold type, different colours or through highlighting. This will require consumers to now positively read the ingredients list for this information rather than just looking for the allergen box.
Under the new legislation, all food businesses will be required to provide allergy information on food sold unpackaged in catering outlets and shops. This is a real practical challenge for the industry.
Whilst the new EU legislation should help reduce the risk of accidental contamination for consumers, another consequence is that it may drive increased product liability exposure for the huge number and wide range of businesses involved in the food production and distribution chain. This may be exacerbated as public awareness grows throughout Europe.
Contamination and product recall incidents can develop into significant crisis events and it remains important for organisations to ensure that risk assessments, contract management controls, food quality and safety systems covering the whole supply chain, and crisis management procedures are in place.
The new Regulations will potentially create additional potential public/product liability implications as a result of the changes, for example:
- Where an individual suffers an allergic reaction and the foodstuff (or beverage) has not been properly labelled
- Potential increase in product recall claims.
Such claims are likely to be complex as organisations seek to subrogate down the supply chain and the scope is potentially enormous in the food service context.
When do I need to do this?
While food businesses are free to market products labelled under the new rules now, the majority of the changes required under EU FIC will apply from 13 December 2014.
Nutrition labelling however will not become mandatory until 13 December 2016 unless information is provided on a voluntary basis prior to this date or it is required for another reason. If it is provided, then it will need to comply with the requirements set down by the EU FIC. For both types of label, there is however a short transitional period to allow products labelled under the old regime to sell through.
All food and drink companies will need to consider all aspects of food labelling affecting their products including product development, technical management, quality assurance to marketing, regulatory affairs and enforcement by authorities of the new rules.
And, with labelling changes taking time to process and the whole industry having to change, now really is the time to be on top of these issues.
For more information visit:
Dominic Watkins, Partner, DWF
Mark Black, Practice Leader (Casualty), QBE Risk Solutions
Article first published by QBE European Operations, September 2014.
“Changes to Food Labelling Regulations: What you need to know – QBE Issues Forum”