FSA Consultation Letter, 14 February 2008
This proposal brings together general and nutrition labelling for all pre-packed foods and also covers the requirements for foods sold non-pre-packed (loose and pre-packed for direct sale). The aims of the proposal are simplification and consolidation of existing texts, while ensuring consumers have sufficient information to make informed choices. Responses are requested by: 2 May 2008
On 30 January, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a draft regulation on the provision of food information to consumers. The proposal is the first step in the process of negotiating new regulations. The Agency will be considering how the proposal can benefit consumers and industry, and will be continuing to work with stakeholders to ensure UK views are represented. The comments received from this consultation will help inform the Government in its negotiations on the proposal.
The regulation will replace Directive 2000/13/EC on general labelling and Directive 90/496/EC for nutrition labelling and recast a number of other directives. The regulation will be directly applicable in all Member States.
The Agency will be taking account of your views on the proposal, when developing policy decisions and UK lines, ahead of negotiations later this year.
A copy of the proposal and accompanying EC Impact Assessment is available on the Commission's website. Alternatively, a hard copy is available on request.
Key issues and areas of major change in the proposal
The Agency will be considering the text and its policy intention carefully over the coming months. However to help with the initial consultation on the proposal we have outlined the main elements below. We have also indicated the work the Agency has already carried out on these issues and previous stakeholder responses. This consultation seeks your views on these elements.
The Agency has previously consulted on the aims and scope of the review of labelling, with the general consensus being that simplification should be one of the key aims of any new legislation. The proposal consolidates general labelling rules, and introduces longer transition periods. The proposal does not include consolidation of more specific commodity legislation, which may contain labelling provisions. There may still be scope for further simplification measures beyond consolidation, for example, the removal of the double labelling of sweeteners. We would welcome any further suggestions – accompanied by supporting evidence.
The FSA Board endorsed a principles-based approach to labelling legislation, following a public consultation in June 2007. The proposal adopts a similar approach which aims to ensure requirements are proportionate and balanced.
The new proposal includes the introduction of mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling for energy, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, with specific reference to sugars, and salt per 100ml/g or, in certain circumstances, on a per portion basis. There is a positive list of additional nutrients that are allowed to be labelled on a voluntary basis on either the front or back of pack. The mandatory nutrition declaration has to be accompanied by an indication of the percentage of the reference intake value provided by the food. The Commission has suggested reference intake values in Annex XI of the proposal.
Stakeholder views on nutrition labelling were previously requested in an Interested Parties letter, dated 16 March 2007. There were mixed views on whether nutrition labelling should be made mandatory. If nutrition labelling were to be made mandatory, there was general agreement that only a short list of nutrients should be required. Where a preference was expressed, the most common nutrients mentioned were energy, fat, sugars and salt. There was broad agreement that nutrition information should be given on a per 100g and per portion basis.
A number of issues related to the proposal on nutrition labelling are included in the document at the link below. We would welcome your views on these points.
The proposal tightens controls in this area by introducing a minimum font size of 3mm, and a requirement for there to be a significant contrast between the print and the background. The Agency has published best practice guidance on clear labelling (2002), which recognises that font size alone cannot guarantee clarity. We are aware that there are concerns that a minimum font size would be disproportionate and impractical for small packages. The proposal addresses this issue by having an exemption for small packages with a largest surface area of 10 cm2.
Country of origin
From previous consultations (July 2004, March 2006) the general understanding is that consumers want clearer information on the origin of food, particularly meat and meat products. Agency Best Practice Guidance also recognises that the consumer can be misled in certain circumstances, for example British bacon made from imported pork.
The proposal clarifies and tightens the rules on providing origin declarations, but does not extend the list of foods that require mandatory country of origin labelling.
Where an origin declaration is provided and the origin of the primary ingredient(s) of a food differs from where the product has been made, the origin of those ingredient(s) should also be given, for example, ‘Made in the UK from Dutch Pork'.
For meat (other than beef and veal, for which specific legislation already exists), where voluntary origin information is provided, the places of birth, rearing and slaughter must be given. If all three occurred in the same country, then a single origin declaration will be sufficient. Is this considered sufficient? If not what evidence do you have to support any suggested changes?
Food sold loose/allergy labelling
The proposal maintains the derogation for Member States to adopt national rules for the provision of information for food sold loose and pre-packed for direct sale. The FSA Board has already suggested a best practice approach to the provision of information for those foods and we will be consulting on this aspect at a later date.
However, the Commission has extended mandatory allergen labelling to apply to both food sold loose and pre-packed for direct sale, including catering establishments. We would welcome your views on this, particularly with regard to safety concerns and the costs to business of providing this information.
The scope of the proposal has been extended to include the provision of food information via distance selling, for example, via the internet or mail-order catalogues. The proposal requires all mandatory information under Article 9, other than QUID; date marks; storage instructions; name and address of manufacturer/packer/seller; and alcoholic strength, to appear on supporting material before the purchase is concluded (point of sale). This recognises consumers' right to information at the point of purchase.
Alcoholic beverages will have to provide full mandatory labelling as required for other pre-packed food.
However, wine, beer and spirit drinks continue to be exempt from the provision of ingredients and nutrition labelling, pending a review by the Commission to determine suitable labelling of these foods. The Commission has committed to producing a report to determine the labelling of ingredients for alcoholic drinks after five years of the entry into force of the Regulations.
The Agency has previously consulted (July 2004, March 2006) on the extension of ingredients listing to alcoholic drinks, with the consensus opinion being that alcoholic drinks should be brought in line with other foods, so long as there is a satisfactory cost benefit analysis.
Stakeholder views on nutrition labelling on alcoholic drinks were previously requested in an Interested Parties letter (16 March 2007) and some support was expressed for labelling of energy content.
The proposal provides a framework for national labelling schemes. They are intended to promote innovation in the interest of clarity for consumers, alongside harmonisation and co-operation between Member States, without the need for legislation. This would permit the continued use of traffic light labelling and could, for example, be used to promote UK Best Practice Guidance on the provision of Allergy information for non pre-packed foods.
The proposal provides a transition period of three years, after the entry into force, for businesses to implement the requirements. A longer period of five years is set for micro businesses (business with fewer than ten employees plus an annual turnover not exceeding EUR 2 million) to implement nutrition labelling. This length of time should minimise costs to industry of implementing the necessary changes to labels and is in-line with previous requests from industry representatives.
The Agency has carried out a number of consultations as a result of the European Commission's review of food labelling. A list of previous consultations is included in the document at the link below. This consultation seeks your views on key issues highlighted above but we are also interested to hear about any other aspects of the proposal that you may think are significant/should be changed.
In addition to the above we would also welcome views from all stakeholders with regards to:
An impact assessment is included in the document at the link below which summarises the costs and benefits, based on available data, of the proposal. We would welcome any comments or additional data you may be able to provide for this document.