Food Law News - EU - 2011

DEFRA Interested Parties Letter (LRM 97), 7 January 2011

LABELLING - European Commission’s Proposal for a Food Information Regulation (FiR) - Update on Discussions in Council Working Group meetings under the Belgian Presidency

Since the previous letter of the 7 June 2010, Council Working Group meetings continued under the Belgian Presidency and the Council reached political agreement on the text at the Health Council on 7 December.  The content of the political agreement can be found in Council document 16555/01 and its corrigendum. 

For copies of these documents on this site, see:

The main aspects are set out below.  These issues may be subject to further discussion during the second reading between the European Parliament and Council.

Origin labelling

Under the Belgian Presidency there was a detailed discussion on origin for the first time in the negotiations. The outcome was that, mandatory origin information would be required for fresh meat. This is in addition to the requirement to provide origin labelling where it would otherwise mislead consumers. In line with the Commission’s proposal, there will be tighter rules when an origin claim is made. Further information will be required on the origin, or an indication that the origin is different, for some ingredients in a product if they are different from the origin claimed. These provisions will be subject to implementing rules that will need to be agreed before the requirements become applicable, to ensure market certainty.

As part of the package of measures there will be consideration of whether compulsory origin information is needed for further foods (including meat and dairy products). An assessment of feasibility, trade impacts and costs will be undertaken through a report by the Commission within 3 years of the Regulation coming into force, with the possibility of bringing forward rules for any areas identified.

Alcohol labelling

The position reached for alcohol seeks to accommodate the wide range of Member state views. There are exemptions from ingredients listing and nutrition declarations for many alcoholic drinks including wine, mead, beer and spirit drinks, pending a report by the Commission within 5 years. Certain alcoholic drinks such as mixed drinks including alcopops would be subject to the general rules and require nutrition and ingredient labelling. For those products exempted from the mandatory nutrition labelling requirement provisions have been included to allow information to be provided on energy only.

Nutrition labelling

The Council supported the introduction of mandatory nutrition declaration for the majority of prepacked foods. It would like to see the declaration consisting of information on energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt.  Although not stating where the mandatory declaration must be found, the Council has included provisions to allow voluntary Front of Pack nutrition labelling with information on energy, fat, saturated fat, salt and sugars with % GDA, as well as additional forms of expression and presentation (format unspecified) on a voluntary basis in addition to the mandatory declaration.

Technical issues:

There has been further consideration of a number of technical issues. 

The text clarifies responsibilities for businesses.  The business responsible is identified as  the operator under whose name the food is marketed or if not established in the EU, the importer. It will be their responsibility to ensure the accuracy of labelling. Changes to the food information are not permitted if they would affect consumer protection or mislead consumer. Where businesses change the food information they will be responsible for the changes made. All other businesses have a minimum responsibility;

  1. to ensure that within the scope of their activities, labels are compliant with the relevant legislation.
  2. a requirement not to supply food they know or could reasonably be expected to know, was inaccurately labelled.

These changes are reflected in the contact name and address for queries which must be included on the pack.

The FIR outlines requirements for distance selling of food, such as via the internet, for the first time. The provisions require that the majority of the mandatory particulars for that food (with the exception of date marks) be available before the purchase is concluded. However, there is flexibility in the means used to provide the information e.g. telephone lines, websites etc. Vending machines are explicitly exempt from these provisions to reflect their mode of sale.

In relation to net quantity, concerns were raised last the summer that there would be significant changes to the net quantity requirements as a result of the FIR. However, the Council position retains the majority of existing provisions. The ability to sell by number alone will continue. There are a number of technical aspects under discussion these include net weight requirements for some small packs where the UK currently has national rules in place exempting small items. We will continue to raise these issues as the opportunities arise. One of these is losing the UK provision to exempt some small items from providing a net quantity declaration.

The UK highlighted the need for clarification on the definitions of the forms of date mark. As a result there is a clear indication that ‘use by dates’ relate to food safety. There has also been some changes to the list of exemptions with single portions of ice cream no longer exempt from providing a date mark.

On allergen labelling there have been a couple of changes to clarify and strengthen the requirements. Each allergenic ingredient or allergen derived ingredient will be required to appear in the ingredients list with a reference to the allergen as listed in the Annex. This information is not required where the allergenic ingredient is referred to in the name of the food.

On loose foods the revised provisions are more in line with current practice for this category of foods where Member States choose whether to require certain mandatory information. However, allergy information will be mandatory for this sector. There is flexibility for Member States to adopt rules on how the allergen information and any other mandatory particulars are provided and the way the information is presented.

Next steps

Following political agreement, the Council will submit a Common position to the European Parliament for second reading that is expected to begin in Spring. Both Council and Parliament will have a further opportunity to consider the dossier. The Regulation is expected to be finalised and published in early 2012. There will be appropriate transition periods for all businesses with the Council proposing three years for the labelling provisions although the mandatory requirement for nutrition labelling will not apply for five years. The UK will continue to actively contribute to the negotiations and keep interested parties aware of significant developments.

As part of this process we are inviting stakeholders to attend a meeting on the 21st January 2011 to provide further information on the current position and the next steps for the dossier. If you would be interested in attending this meeting please can you contact my colleague Ruth Hodgson ( by the 17th January 2011 as space is limited and places will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

Impacts and costs to businesses

We would now welcome your input to assist with our assessment of the impact and potential costs of these approaches and in particular the technical issues outlined above. These will help to inform our views going forward into second reading and also provide some initial information for an impact assessment.


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