The new Food Information Regulation will replace the current EU Food Labelling Directive.
In many respects food labelling rules will remain unchanged, but there will be significant alterations in three key areas. It is those areas which have been causing the delay and controversy, and in some cases a compromise has been reached on the basis that the Commission will carry out further study with a view to introducing further legislation in the future.
Minimum print size
The first key change is the introduction of a minimum font size of 1.2mm for the “x – height” for all mandatory labelling information. If the largest surface of the food package is less than 80cm2 then the minimum font size is reduced to 0.9mm.
What’s more, if the largest surface is less than 10cm2 then many of the mandatory items of information need not be indicated at all, so long as the name of the food, any allergens, the net quantity and the date of minimum durability are marked in the minimum 0.9mm font.
Mandatory nutrition declaration
The proposed new rules on nutrition declarations are significantly less extensive than had originally been planned. A nutrition declaration will become mandatory for the first time on most products, but, contrary to earlier proposals, it need not be carried on the front of the pack. The minimum declaration would be the energy value and the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, protein, sugars and salt, which must be given per 100g or 100ml. Declarations per portion will be permitted in addition as will indications by reference to guideline daily amounts. Other nutrients such as polyunsaturated and vitamins can also be included. There are a number of provisions allowing for flexibility, such as the use of additional graphical symbols, but in fact because of the conditions imposed on such extra information the net effect may be to reduce manufacturers’ choice rather than increase it.
Country of origin labelling
The final controversial area was mandatory country of origin labelling. Currently such labelling is required for fresh beef, fruits and vegetables, honey, olive oil and in other circumstances where a failure to give an indication of origin might mislead consumers. Under the new legislation compulsory country of origin labelling will also apply to fresh pig, sheep, goat and poultry meat. The European Commission will adopt detailed implementing rules within two years after Regulation enters into force, and must also submit a report about possible extension of origin labelling to meat used as an ingredient in food products, and to other products such as milk, milk used as an ingredient, single ingredient products and products where an ingredient represents more than 50% of the food.
In essence what has happened is that most of the debate about country of origin labelling has been postponed in order to get agreement on the rest of the Food Information Regulation.
More minor changes include a requirement to emphasise allergens by using a type set that distinguishes them from the rest of the list of ingredients, and a paragraph instructing the Commission to examine the possibility or requiring, for the first time, alcoholic drinks to be bear a list of ingredients and nutrition declarations, or at least an indication of energy value.
There will be a number of new special cases such as a requirement to give the date of freezing of deep frozen products, specifying which vegetable oils have been used in a product and indicating when water has been added to meat or fish.
The issue of trans fats is to be postponed – with the Commission instructed to study further what measures might be appropriate – whether mandatory labelling or an actual ban.
Entry into force
There is a good chance that the new Regulation will be agreed and published in the Official Journal of the EU in late 2012. The new rules will become compulsory three years after that publication date, save for the mandatory nutrition declaration where the transitional period will be 5 years.
The length of the transition periods gives food businesses plenty of time to consider how to adapt labelling to the new rules. In some cases the best solution may be a reformulation of the product, which would inevitably extend the lead time. Prudent food and drink businesses will start work on the impact of the new Regulation as soon as it is finalised.