Controversy continues to rage about certain aspects of country-of-origin-labelling (COOL) and, as a consequence, these have not been dealt with, said Owen Warnock, a partner with Eversheds. The thorny issue of ‘traffic light labelling’could also well re-emerge, he added.
On COOL, for example, the version of the FIR adopted has not addressed the labelling of vegetables in vegetable stews. Currently, these may change on a seasonal basis and manufacturers fear it would be impractical to continually alter labels to reflect changes in the country of origin.
“Things that are controversial have been parked,” said Warnock. The intention is that these will be resolved some time in the future, he added. This applies to a possible extension of COOL to milk and milk used as an ingredient in dairy products, as well as unprocessed foods and meats other than those already specified.
The rules adopted are also quite prescriptive about what nutrition information is and is not displayed and the way it is appears on pack, said Warnock. “It seems to me, a slippery slope about what you can’t put on packs,” he said. “It may be perfectly true things, but you just shouldn’t be saying them.”
However, there remains considerable ambiguity around the area of traffic light labelling. This system of simple nutrition labelling guidance is supported by the Food Standards Agency and consumer groups, but rejected by most parts of the food manufacturing industry in the UK, which supports a system of guideline daily amounts or GDAs.
“Traffic lights may be allowed by the Commission if promoted by Member States,” said Warnock.
But, information included under the FIR is not allowed to be subjective in nature and some Member States may challenge any proposal to change the rules to allow traffic lights, which they could argue effectively provide an “opinion” about whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Alcoholic beverages have also been made exempt from the FIR in the short term. That decision will be reviewed three years after the new rules are implemented, said Warnock. Some campaigners will see this as an opportunity to attack the alcohol industry and “demonise alcopops”, he added.
Before any further changes to the FIR are implemented, however, the European Commission will in three years’ time conduct an impact assessment on the affect of any further changes.