Allaying industry fears of immediate and widespread punitive action against firms that miss the December 13 deadline, David Pickering, team leader the Trading Standards Institute, pledged: “Officers will take a proportionate and reasonable view.”
“Each case will be judged on its own merits,” he told the Food Manufacture Group’s webinar – the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIR): what you need to know – last month.
His colleague Corrine Lowe, the organisation’s joint lead officer food and nutrition, explained how the FIR – known as FIC before its implementation – would be policed. “For the first time, FIR will provide the enforcement tool of improvement notices as an enforcement option to deal with food labelling and food information breaches, not related to safety,” said Lowe.
‘Classed as an offence’
“It will be an offence not to comply with an improvement notice and any safety matters in relation to food labelling or information will also still be an offence,” she added. “Also, the improvement notice enforcement tool will not be available in Scotland, so any breach in Scotland will be classed as an offence.”
Lowe said where food businesses operated in a primary authority partnership with Trading Standards and/or environmental health, the primary authority would have to be notified before an improvement notice was issued – unless it was an urgent matter such as a serious risk of harm.
There will also be an appeals process available against improvement notices. The appeals process is different across the UK, warned Lowe. “England has opted for a first tier tribunal, with Wales and Northern Ireland opting for magistrates’ court appeals.”
Retailers would also have a responsibility not to supply food they knew, or presumed, on the basis of the information in their possession, to be non compliant with FIC – even if they were not the ones responsible for the food information, added Lowe.
‘Food supply chain also has to take responsibility’
“In other words, everyone in the food supply chain also has to take responsibility for ensuring that the information is compliant [with FIR] and must not supply food which they know or presume to be non-compliant with the law.”
Dominic Watkins, partner and head of the food group at law firm and event sponsor DWF, predicted Trading Standards would be realistic about the scale of the food labelling challenge facing food and drink manufacturers and retailers.
“I think you’ll see Trading Standards becoming pragmatic about this and having conversations with businesses and that’s in the spirit of the way enforcement is supposed to work,” said Watkins.
Watkins noted the observations of some that there would be no real enforcement of the food labelling regime. “We are moving from food labelling regulations having a raft of offences, where it is clearly illegal to sell food after the use-by date, for example, to a new situation where, on the face of it, there is no such ofence,” he said. “The reality is you could still be prosecuted for that by virtue of it being unsafe using the existing enforcement regime to achieve those objectives.”
Alasdair Tucker, head of regulatory affairs at Premier Foods, noted foods produced in the transition period from December 13 2011 to December 13 2014 could be marketed with existing labels up to the end of their shelf-life.
Meanwhile, you can listen to the webinar at any time, after registering here.