On January 30 2008, the European Commission published a draft new regulation on the provision of information to consumers. The draft attempts to address consumers' desire for more information on food labels and the food industry's wish for clear and simple rules. The aim of the new regulation is to simplify, consolidate and update existing food labelling legislation. As a result, it retains many of the current labelling requirements, including provisions relating to product name, ingredients, best before/use by date etc, while proposing a number of new requirements.
The key new requirements relate to:
l Mandatory nutrition labelling - perhaps the most fundamental change, as front-of-pack nutritional information will be required for most pre-packaged foods. This includes listing the energy, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar and salt per 100ml/g and, in certain cases, per portion. Additional nutrients may be included but only from a defined list and where the visibility and legibility of the mandatory items remains unaffected. With some exceptions, all mandatory information must be displayed prior to purchase for food sold via distance selling. Also, nutritional information must be included where vitamins or minerals have been voluntarily added and in support of any nutrition or health claim being made.
l Allergen information is to be extended to apply to non pre-packed food which is available for direct sale, including such food sold at restaurants and catering establishments.
l Alcoholic drinks - ready-to-drink mixed alcoholic beverages must include a list of ingredients and comply with the mandatory nutrition labelling requirements, although wine, beer and spirits will be exempt.
l Clarity of information - mandatory information must be printed clearly in a minimum font size of 3mm with a significantly contrasting background to ensure legibility. Unprocessed or nutritionally insignificant foods or those with packaging covering less than 10cm2 will be exempt from this requirement.
l Country of origin is, as at present, only required if the absence of such information is potentially misleading. But it is proposed that, where a country of origin is declared for a primary ingredient, it should be identified if the product itself is made in a different country.
l Voluntary national labelling schemes will still be permitted as long as they conform to the regulation's mandatory requirements.
l A transitional implementation period of three years is proposed with an additional two years for smaller businesses. The proposals will be subject to change as they go through the legislative process.
Ravi Randhawa is a regulatory legal advisor and a member of the food and drink team at commercial law firm Wragge & Co LLP