Defra Letter (LRM 97), 14 July 2011
For a copy of the compromise agreement mentioned below, see: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+AMD+A7-2011-0177+136-136+DOC+PDF+V0//EN
The second reading on the Provision of Food for Information for Consumers has progressed significantly. On 19 April, the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee of the European Parliament voted on proposed amendments providing the European Parliament’s provisional view on the dossier. Since that time there has been negotiation between the institutions to consider the European Parliament’s amendments and to develop a compromise agreement. The final meeting was held on 14 June and resulted in a deal being proposed on the dossier in its entirety.
The formal process for consideration and adoption of the agreement began on 6 July when the European Parliament (EP) voted in favour of the compromise agreement, at its Plenary meeting. While the dossier is yet to be formally agreed (the Commission and Council will consider the compromise agreement in the autumn), the EP vote is an important step forward. We consider that the compromise agreement, while not ideal for everyone, will improve food labelling in the EU. Below I have outlined the outcomes on some of the key issues.
The agreement will make ‘back of pack’ nutrition labelling of pre-packed foods mandatory and bring it broadly in line with current voluntary practice in the UK. Information on energy declarations will have to be provided in kilojoules (kJ), in addition to information on kilocalories (kcal) to comply with EU weights and measures requirements. It will enable voluntary front of pack (FOP) nutrition labelling for five nutrients (energy, fat, saturates, sugars and salt) together on a per portion basis to continue, subject to energy information being provided both per 100g and per portion.
The agreement will allow the continuation of percentage of guideline daily amount (GDA) per portion indications on a voluntary basis on both front and back of pack. It would also allow Member States and companies some discretion over the use of additional forms of expression in voluntary FOP labels, provided that certain conditions are satisfied.
The compromise agreement broadly reflects existing UK practice on nutrition declarations.
Country of origin labelling
During second reading in the European Parliament, some MEPs continued to highlight their wish to extend mandatory origin labelling to a broad range of food commodities.
Nonetheless, the compromise agreement retains most of the Council’s common position. Mandatory origin labelling will be required for fresh (and frozen) meats and where claims are made concerning the origin of a food, further information on the origin of the main ingredients will have to be given if these are different to the claim. Both these requirements will be subject to detailed implementing rules to be proposed by the Commission. The Commission is also charged with looking at the feasibility of extending the mandatory labelling to additional food commodities such as single ingredient products, milk and dairy products, and will have to report back on this within three years. The report on the origin of meat used as an ingredient, will be prioritised and prepared within two years.
All alcoholic drinks will be exempt from providing ingredient and nutrition information pending a Commission report on the feasibility of labelling to be prepared within three years. The report will also specifically consider labelling of alcopops. We are pleased to see that sectors of the industry will not be disadvantaged while the Commission undertakes its review. In the meantime, it will be possible to provide an energy only declaration on alcoholic drinks on a voluntary basis. Provision of this information will help inform consumers of the contribution of alcohol to their energy intake.
The Government considers it important that food allergic consumers receive appropriate information to make safe food choices, balanced with the burden to business. In the compromise agreement there is recognition that allergic consumers need consistency on the location of allergen information, in the ingredients list, with the information highlighted so that consumers can find it easily. There is also recognition that requirements to provide information on risk of allergen cross-contamination should remain voluntary at this time, but that the Commission should consider requirements to ensure consistency in the information given.
The current legal framework allowing Member States to determine the rules for non-prepacked foods was reflected in the compromise agreement. The exception to this was a requirement to provide allergen information in this sector. However, there will be flexibility around how this information is provided to reflect the diversity of business in this sector and to ensure information is meaningful to food allergic consumers. This is a significant move forward for food allergic consumers.
There is also a framework for voluntary nutrition information so that it can be provided in a consistent and meaningful way for consumers.
The compromise agreement suggests inclusion of a minimum font (1.2mm x height) to provide an enforceable criteria to ensure labels can be easily read. The compromise deal also includes exemptions for small products that cannot support text at the determined minimum font size. Packs below 80cm2 may use a smaller minimum font size of 0.9mm x height. Other factors affecting clarity, such as contrast, are recognised in a new definition of legibility.
Method of slaughter labelling
Method of slaughter labelling was considered by the European Parliament. The Government supports honesty in food labelling, animal welfare and respects the right of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. The compromise agreement recognises the importance of this issue and requires that the Commission considers it further as part of forthcoming discussions on the EU welfare strategy.
Labelling of vegetable oils
The compromise agreement, while requiring the type of vegetable oil to be listed in all cases, does this within a generic heading of vegetable oil, so that there is no requirement to indicate the proportions of different vegetable oils present, and proportions can vary without businesses having to change the label. Consumers will be able to see where palm oil is used, and the intention is that businesses will be discouraged from using palm oil from unsustainable sources.
Added ingredients in meat products
There have also been a number of changes to labelling of added ingredients in meat products. The new requirements will require added water and some added ingredients to be labelled prominently on products. This provides consumers with information to make informed choices. These new provisions reflect existing requirements in the UK on labelling of added ingredients on meat products with the appearance of a cut or portion of meat. In the case of added proteins, the new EU provisions will have a wider scope covering all meat products.
Labelling of foods frozen and sold defrosted
Labelling of foods frozen and sold defrosted was subject to some discussion in second reading. Information will only need to be provided where consumers would be misled or the product would not be suitable for refreezing as a result of being defrosted. This is a compromise that balances consumer need for information and the burden to businesses.
The European Parliament pressed for mandatory labelling of trans fats. Given the success of voluntary initiatives by industry to remove artificial trans fats, a number of Member States including the UK felt that mandatory labelling would be disproportionate. Instead, the Commission will submit a report within three years from entry into force of the Regulation which will consider the question of provision of information on trans fats to consumers or restrictions on their use. If appropriate, the Commission will accompany the report with a legislative proposal.
The Council will formally vote on the compromise agreement in the autumn. This vote will confirm the agreed compromise package. It is currently expected that the Regulation will then be published in the final quarter of 2011. Once the Regulation comes into force, it will be implemented in the UK. There will be transition measures with the majority of provisions applying from 3 years after the Regulation comes into force, and the mandatory nutrition declaration applying after 5 years.
I recognise that there will be a need for effective implementation of the Regulation in the UK. This will include work to highlight the main changes to the regulations and a role for guidance on the new provisions. We appreciate the value of involving our key stakeholders in these next steps and we will be in contact again to determine how best to utilise your input.